You could hadly blame a veteran of the National Football League if they viewed the preseason opening game as a necessary evil.
The games are mere exhibitions. Most veterans simply want to avoid injury. A majority don't play for long, unless they have something to prove, giving way to the younger players fighting for roster spots.
Offensive lineman Derek Sherrod, however, most definitley had something to prove Saturday evening when the Packers traveled to Nashville to take on the Titans in the preseason opener.
Despite playing in a game that doesn't count in the league standing in a torrential downpour during warm-ups and most of the first quarter and into the second half, Sherrod's spirits were high following the game.
For the first time since suffering his devastating leg injury in December of 2011, in which he fractured both his tibia and fibula, the four-year NFL veterans saw extended playing time, 46 snaps in all, according to ProFootballFocus.com.
"As far as I'm concerned, every single rep is important," said Sherrod. "The more reps you get, the more experience you get, the more you're going to get better with each and every snap. So I enjoyed each little bit of my playing time."
What the Packers saw on Saturday evening were glimpses of the player they took in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft, potential unreallzed up until this point, largely due to injury.
Sherrod graded out as the best Packers offensive lineman, receiving a +2.1 rating from Pro Football Focus.
But simply returning to game action, for a long stretch of time, was perhaps the most important step in Sherrod's long road to recovery.
Yes, Sherrod made his return in earnest last season, seeing playing time primarily on the place-kick protection units after finally coming off the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list in November of 2013. He played only a half dozen snaps on offense the entire season, a mere fraction of what he played on Saturday night alone.
That his leg held up in a game environment was an accomplishment in itself.
"I felt very good, just going out there each every single drive, just trying to make the best, trying to help the offense score," said Sherrod.
Sherrod generally split his time between left and right tackle, an important development in light of the recent torn ACL suffered by fellow offensive lineman Don Barclay, who will very likely miss the entirety of the 2014 season.
The Packers will be relying upon Sherrod to be a swing tackle, backing up both starters, David Bakhtiari on the left side of the offensive line and Bryan Bulaga on the right.
And best of all for Sherrod, it came in a game environment, much different from training camp in Green Bay, where the Packers do very little live tackling during practice.
"Facing a different opponent is definitely a great thing," said Sherrod. "We wanted to test a lot out. I got out there and played both sides of the ball on the left and right, so that was pretty good for the experience level."
As important as Saturday evening was for Sherrod, the game represented just one obstacle out of many he must overcome.
If Sherrod were an Olympic hurdler, he may have simply gotten out of the starting blocks last season, but now he's leaping over each barrier one at a time.
His next challenge will be to put up back-to-back positive performances, his next opportunity coming on Saturday evening against the St. Louis Rams in the second preseason game.
But for a brief period of time, in the locker room following the match-up versus the Titans, Sherrod could smile and know he took a big step in the right direction.
"I feel like I'm at the top," said Sherrod. "I've definitely been working hard, just like everybody else at training camp, going in and practice each and every day. And I definitely enjoyed this first preseason game, getting to hit somebody else other than somebody in a Packer helmet."
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor at Cheesehead TV and its "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email [email protected]
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