Packers need to find a solution at left tackle

GREEN BAY, Wis. — For two consecutive years, Packers general manager Ted Thompson used Green Bay’s first-round draft pick on an offensive tackle. In 2010, Bryan Bulaga was selected 23rd overall. In 2011, Derek Sherrod was added with the 32nd pick.

But with Bulaga having found a home at right tackle and Sherrod still recovering from the broken leg he suffered last season, neither of the 23-year-olds will be protecting the blind side of the NFL’s Most Valuable Player, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, any time soon.

“We feel relatively comfortable there,” Thompson said Tuesday of the team’s left tackle position. “You’re always working on contingency plans and things like that.”

That is not a glowing endorsement of a position that was a major focus for Green Bay in back-to-back drafts.

If Sherrod had been healthy, he would likely have been in a competition for the starting left tackle spot this season. But with Sherrod suffering a setback in spring during his rehabilitation, the job belonged to 2010 fifth-round pick Marshall Newhouse entering training camp.

However, Newhouse is currently recovering from a concussion, which has elevated Herb Taylor, a 27-year-old journeyman who spent the 2010 season in the United Football League and hasn’t appeared in an NFL game since 2008, to No. 1 left tackle in recent practices.

“Usually you’re drawing the premier rushers and you have to be on target,” offensive line coach James Campen said of left tackles. “The room for error is very small. Outside, you’re an island. It’s a very important position.”

Newhouse has been officially ruled out for Green Bay’s first preseason game on Thursday, which means it will be Taylor’s responsibility to keep Rodgers from getting sacked from behind against the Chargers.

Though coach Mike McCarthy still expects Rodgers to play in San Diego, he admitted Tuesday that the left tackle situation could be a factor in just how many snaps he takes.

“That will be part of our discussion of how we’re going to play now that Marshall has been ruled out today by the medical staff,” McCarthy said.

Once Newhouse does pass the NFL’s concussion protocol, which could be as soon as this weekend, he’ll resume his role as starting left tackle.

But given the obvious current lack of depth at offensive tackle on the Packers’ roster, the status of Sherrod could be a significant story line all season. At the moment, Sherrod isn’t sure of details about when he may be able to return.

“Hopefully as soon as possible,” he said. “I want to be back out there as quickly as possible. That’s why I’m working hard, so that I can do the things and gain the things that I need to finally get cleared.”

It was in Week 15 last season when Sherrod had to be carted off the field with a broken leg. Nearly eight months later, he’s still unable to pass his physical.

“Any injury is difficult whether it’s one that requires a couple weeks or one that requires a couple months,” Sherrod said. “That’s why you have to stay positive about things because your attitude about injuries can affect the outcome of it.”

The coaching staff isn’t concerned with Sherrod picking up the mental side of the offense once he’s cleared. After all, Sherrod was twice a finalist for the “Academic Heisman” in college, based partly on his good grades at Mississippi State.

“He’s a very intelligent kid, so assignments and those things come very easily for him because he studies very hard,” Campen said.

However, getting ready physically will be a challenge for Sherrod to accomplish in a short amount of time.

“He’s going to have to go through and get in football shape,” Campen said. “It’s a lot different than running around and those type of things and get banged around and get sore and then progress from there on.”

Sherrod described getting the offensive line technique down as “just like riding a bike,” so he isn’t worried about that aspect of his eventual comeback. But the length of time until he’s actually in game shape could take a while.

When Sherrod is back on the field, his presence will be a welcome addition to an offensive tackle group that is getting quite thin.

“When he gets out there I’m going to be excited as heck for him and for us to get him back,” Campen said. “He’s a dang good football player and I’m just looking forward to getting him back.”

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