GREEN BAY – Bryan Bulaga knows what Derrick Sherrod is going through.
He knows, because he was Sherrod last year.
It was Bulaga who was the Green Bay Packers first round draft pick. It was Bulaga who was hailed by many outside of the organization as the heir apparent to veteran left tackle Chad Clifton. And it was Bulaga who was required to learn multiple positions other than the left tackle spot he played for much of his college career.
Now, with Sherrod battling T.J. Lang for the starting job at left guard, head coach Mike McCarthy is seeing the similarities as well.
“He’s going through a little bit of what Bryan went through last year,” McCarthy said as his team prepared for Friday night’s preseason game against Arizona – a game that Lang will start at left guard, ahead of Sherrod.
“He’s not playing as fast as he’d probably like to. He’s not reacting to things as quickly as he’d like to. It’s a little more thinking than the urgency and finish that you’re looking for.”
Bulaga agreed with McCarthy but said Sherrod is making progress.
“I did experience that last year, especially early on playing right tackle just because I wasn’t comfortable with being on that side,” said Bulaga, who won the 2009 Big Ten Lineman of the Year award as Iowa’s left tackle. “But as the year went on, I became more comfortable, and my play speed went up. I can totally understand what he’s going through, and I think everyday he’s starting to get a better grasp of everything.”
Throughout training camp, Lang and Sherrod have rotated between tackle and guard, which some think could stunt the young linemen’s development. But Bulaga said he actually believes the back-and-forth between positions was a positive for him.
“I don’t think it’s harder,” explained Bulaga, who moved between tackle and guard last summer before taking over at right tackle when veteran Mark Tauscher suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 4. “I think it’s probably helping him out, because he understands when he’s at tackle what the guard is supposed to be doing and vice versa. I know it didn’t hurt me last year.”
The battle at left guard is one of the few unanswered questions for a team that won the Super Bowl and brings back 20 of 22 starters, plus a host of talented players returning from injury.
During practice his week, it appeared that Lang had moved slightly ahead of Sherrod in the race to replace longtime starter Darren Colledge, who signed with the Cardinals after the Packers showed little effort in trying to bring him back.
When a decision is finalized, it will be important for the starter to jell quickly with Clifton and center Scott Wells, similar to the way Bulaga said he did late in the year with right guard Josh Sitton.
“Playing next to each other we began to understand what the other was thinking, and where we were supposed to be and why,” Bulaga said.
But the Packers and McCarthy don’t appear to be in any hurry to name a starter despite being just three weeks out from the season opener against the New Orleans Saints on Sept. 8.
“They’re both young players that need this work,” said McCarthy. “But we’re going to take our time with it.”