GREEN BAY, Wis. — For 22 months, Green Bay Packers offensive lineman Derek Sherrod waited to be medically cleared. Finally, after missing 23 regular-season games, three playoff games and more than 100 practices, Sherrod is back.
It was Week 15 of the 2011 season when Sherrod went back in pass protection and suffered a broken right leg. Since then, Sherrod has gotten relatively close to returning on a couple occasions, including last season.
The Packers took a cautious approach with Sherrod as the 6-foot-6, 321-pound former first-round pick recovered. But on the very first day that Sherrod — like all NFL players on the Physically Unable to Perform list — could step on the practice field, he did.
“I’ve been dreaming about it for a while,” Sherrod said Wednesday in the locker room.
Missing as much time as Sherrod has, the little things he was able to do Wednesday held more importance than he ever thought they would.
“Just putting the jersey back on, putting the helmet back on, the cleats,” Sherrod said. “Being out there with the rest of the fellas warming up, going through drills, practicing; it was a great day.”
On Thursday, Sherrod will practice in pads without restrictions, another first in his long-awaited comeback.
“They (the pads) have been in my locker for a while,” Sherrod said. “It’s about time for me to break them out.”
Sherrod is a reserved, soft-spoken 24-year-old whose personality doesn’t match his massive size as a prototypical offensive tackle. He hasn’t let his emotions show much publicly in the nearly two years that he’s been forced to stay away from football. Speaking frequently since the injury about the need to take things day to day, Sherrod had to fight any urge to get ahead of himself.
Now that the good news he was waiting for has arrived, Sherrod could only laugh and smile at his locker as he thought about the challenge he faced of having to watch the early years of his NFL career be spent the way they were.
“It’s definitely been a while, and it’s felt like it,” Sherrod said. “I’m just finally glad that this day has come. It tested my patience a little while, but patience is a virtue.”
By participating in Wednesday’s practice, Sherrod now has three weeks before the Packers have to choose whether to add him to the active roster, release him or place him on season-ending injured reserve. Sherrod is planning for the first of those three options.
“I’m looking forward to getting back out there on the roster and helping my team get to our goal of winning the Super Bowl,” Sherrod said.
While Sherrod has reason for optimism, Green Bay isn’t going to rush him through the final steps of the process.
“The individual work will be really good for him,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “How we integrate him into the team work (in practice) is something we’ve talked about. We’re not going to just roll him out there and have him play 55 snaps in pads. I don’t think that’s really smart with what he’s been through and the path he had to take to get to this point.
“We will break him in and push as far as we can. Just be smart.”
Sherrod thought he was bending well and said he felt strong in Wednesday’s practice. Going through the every-day motions on a consistent basis and coming out each time healthy is the last hurdle for him to overcome.
This day, though, was about enjoying the many hurdles that he’d already overcome.
“It means that all the hard work that I’ve been putting in with all my rehab has paid off,” Sherrod said. “It’s been a battle waiting for these couple weeks to wind down, and it finally came.
“Basically the day that I initially got hurt, ever since then I’ve just been looking forward to this day. It has been awhile, but I’ve just been keeping focused each and every day until this point.”
The Packers had big plans for Sherrod when general manager Ted Thompson drafted him with the 32nd overall pick in 2011. A year earlier, Green Bay drafted Bryan Bulaga in the first round. The pairing of two first-round picks at offensive tackle seemed like the way to go for a team that had emerging star Aaron Rodgers at quarterback.
But that plan has yet to work out for the Packers. Sherrod was unable to win a starting job as a rookie and played sparingly in five games that season before his injury. But with a clean bill of health and an admitted greater appreciation for the game, Sherrod is ready to prove why Green Bay believed in him.
“They picked me for a reason and I’m just looking forward to going out there and playing football again,” Sherrod said. “It’s been a long time, but I’m glad that I finally got this chance again.”