Green Bay Packers: James Campen

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers will have at least one change on their coaching staff.

Assistant offensive line coach Steve Marshall is expected to join the New York Jets, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan.

Marshall spent only one season with the Packers, working as offensive line coach James Campen's assistant. He replaced Joel Hilgenberg, who re-signed last April after three seasons on the Packers' coaching staff.

Marshall, 58, had been in the college ranks from 2009-14. Previously, he had six seasons of NFL experience with the Houston Texans and Cleveland Browns.

Earlier this week, the Packers denied the St. Louis Rams permission to interview quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt for their vacant offensive coordinator job. Van Pelt was promoted from running backs coach last offseason and is under contract for the 2015 season. Had Van Pelt's deal been set to expire, the Packers would not have been able to prevent him from interviewing elsewhere.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Bryan Bulaga needed a season like this.

Nearly two years on injured reserve will do that to an NFL player. For his own psyche as much as anything else, it was imperative that the Green Bay Packers right tackle finish a season.

[+] EnlargeRodgers
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesPackers right tackle Bryan Bulaga has been healthier this season, allowing him more opportunities to celebrate with -- and protect -- Aaron Rodgers.
Despite two brief interruptions -- the Week 1 knee injury that kept him out the next week against the New York Jets and a concussion two weeks ago against the Buffalo Bills that did not keep him out the next week -- Bulaga will reach the finish line Sunday when the Packers play the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field for the NFC North title.

"Two years on IR, it's tough," Bulaga said this week. "So to have a have a year like this -- we were just actually talking about it -- everyone stayed relatively healthy, and for me just to have one of these years to go out and play and play well and stay somewhat healthy besides the concussion and a little knee. Besides that, it's been great."

Or maybe he’s just getting started.

"It's been great to be able to contribute and play well and do my job," Bulaga said. "It's been great. It's been fun. Just looking forward to more games."

With everything Bulaga has been through -- from taking over as a rookie starter during the Super Bowl season of 2010 to the 2012 hip injury that ended his season after nine games to his offseason move to left tackle in 2013 that was ruined when he blew out his knee in August of that year to a move back to right tackle this season -- it’s easy to forget the former first-round pick is just 25 years old.

That would seemingly leave him in prime position for a second lucrative contract. The deal Bulaga signed after the Packers drafted him in the first round in 2010 expires in March, and he has no idea whether they want him back next season.

"You know, that's not really something to talk about right now with me," Bulaga said. "It's not really on my mind. I'm just going to go out and play football and enjoy my time here, and at the end of the year, whatever happens, happens. It's out of my hands at that point. That's for my agent and the guys upstairs to figure out."

If the Packers go purely off the tape, there's little reason to think they would not want Bulaga back. He has allowed only three sacks this season, according to, and two of them came in the Week 6 game at the Miami Dolphins.

But there's the injury history to factor.

The Packers never told Bulaga they wanted to see him get through a season before they talked contract, but that surely would have been a prerequisite.

To that end, Bulaga did just about everything he could to come back strong. He spent most of last season rehabbing his knee at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, where he keeps an offseason home. It was there that he not only recovered from his knee injury but remade his 6-foot-5, 314-pound body.

"He's heavier than he's ever been; he's stronger," Packers offensive line coach James Campen said. "Remember, he was a young guy coming out of college, so he's grown into his body and he has a clear understanding of the scheme, so he's playing with total confidence. He knows exactly what’s going to happen, where it’s going to happen."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- If you're looking for someone to rip former first-round pick Derek Sherrod on his way out the door, don't go to James Campen.

The Green Bay Packers offensive line coach won't do it, even though Sherrod started only one game -- and played in just 20 -- in a four-year career with the team that picked him 32nd overall in 2011.

The broken right leg that Sherrod sustained as a rookie while serving backup duty against the Kansas City Chiefs set him so far back, and the Packers didn't see him getting any better. So they released him on Monday when they needed a roster spot to activate offensive linemen JC Tretter off the temporary injured reserve list.

And Campen refuses to fault Sherrod for that.

"That kid persevered through a bad injury and as far as I'm concerned, I don't care where that kid goes, he's a Packer,” Campen said Thursday. "He gave everything he could, and I love the kid."

Sherrod joined defensive end Justin Harrell as the only two Ted Thompson first-round picks no longer on the Packers' roster. The Packers general manager still has eight of his 10 first-round picks dating to 2005 on the team.

When the Packers picked Sherrod a year after they selected another tackle, Bryan Bulaga, in the first round, they thought they found their next set of offensive line bookends like they had in Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher, who were drafted together in 2000 and started for the better part of a decade.

Sherrod didn't win a starting job as a rookie and never really had a chance to compete for one after he broke both the tibia and fibula on Dec. 18, 2011. The injury required immediate surgery, and he went nearly two years before he played in another game.

"To watch what he went through, that was a big-time injury," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "It was probably one of the worst ones I've stood over. He did everything he could. It was not an easy decision, but it was a decision we felt we needed to make."

Packers might need some help at tackle

September, 5, 2014
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- An examination of what the Green Bay Packers must do after their 36-16 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday night:

Don Barclay isn't coming back to save the offensive line again, so if the knee injury that starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga suffered in the second quarter against the Seahawks is serious, Packers coach Mike McCarthy and offensive line coach James Campen better find a way to get Derek Sherrod to eliminate the handful of game-breaking plays that contributed to the Packers' demise in the opener.

Either that or they might have to consider other options.

The coaches might say Sherrod made only a few mistakes, but when your job is to protect quarterback Aaron Rodgers and clear holes for running back Eddie Lacy, even one mistake is too many.

Maybe Sherrod, the former first-round pick, will improve if he has to play again. After all, Thursday was his first meaningful game action since he broke his leg as a rookie in December 2011. But the two sacks he allowed were drive-killers. One came on fourth-and-5. The other resulted in Rodgers' fumble and a safety.

"You just go about it like you always do, work hard in practice," Sherrod said when asked what he needs to do to bounce back.

If the Packers have lost faith in Sherrod, general manager Ted Thompson might have to look to his emergency list for a roster addition. Or McCarthy and Campen could move right guard T.J. Lang to tackle and fill the hole at guard with reserve Lane Taylor.

This is where the knee injury that Barclay suffered early in training camp is costly. He started 18 games the past two seasons, including 14 last year at right tackle.

The Packers said the initial reports on Bulaga's knee were positive, and they called it a sprain. But remember, they also expressed initial optimism about B.J. Raji's arm injury (which turned out to be a season-ending torn biceps) and about JC Tretter's knee injury (which landed him on the temporary injured reserve list).

If they did not avoid a major injury to Bulaga, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL in the same knee he hurt Thursday, it will be a devastating blow personally to a player who had not played since Nov. 9, 2012 because of injuries, and it could cripple the Packers' offense.

"Obviously, he's a guy who's had some bad luck the last couple of years," Lang said. "He's one of the hardest-working guys we've got, and seeing him go down is never easy. Talking with him, I think he sounded pretty confident that he won't be out long. He's a guy that we need. He's a good player for us."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The way Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy sees it, Seattle is the perfect place for Bryan Bulaga's first game in nearly 22 months.

And he might be right.

The last time Bulaga played against the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field, it was perhaps the low point of his career. The right tackle was responsible for two of the eight first-half sacks of quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the Packers' 14-12 loss to Seattle in Week 3 of the 2012 season on Monday Night Football.

Bulaga had allowed just one sack in 12 starts the previous season and didn't have another game in which he allowed more than one sack the rest of the 2012 season.

Several demons from that night in the Seattle still torment the Packers (see Mary, Fail), and Bulaga's uncharacteristic performance remains one of them, in part because of what he went through in the two years that have followed.

"I think Bryan needs to go back to Seattle, just like we all do," McCarthy said Tuesday, two days before the Packers open the season against the Seahawks.

Seemingly on the way to becoming one of the premier right tackles in the NFC, Bulaga's career path changed significantly shortly thereafter. He has not played in a regular-season game since Nov. 4, 2012, when he sustained a season-ending hip injury that was followed by a knee blowout the following summer that cost him the entire 2013 season.

Although he insisted this week that he has not given the last Seattle game much thought, it's hard to forget just what the Seahawks did to Bulaga and the rest of the Packers' offense in the din of the boisterous crowd at CenturyLink Field. The problems started almost immediately. On the Packers' third play from scrimmage, then-rookie Bruce Irvin tossed Bulaga aside like it was nothing and sacked Rodgers 2.5 seconds after the ball was snapped.

As if to show it was no fluke, Irvin beat Bulaga on the next series with an up-and-under move and got to Rodgers in 3.4 seconds for his second sack.

When the night was over, Bulaga had been charged not only with the two sacks but also with another quarterback hit and eight hurries allowed, according to

"I really don't go back [two] years and look at game tapes, I really don't," Bulaga said. "Obviously it needs to be better than what it is; I knew that after the game, but I really don't compare years to years, especially single games. But yeah, overall individually, I definitely do [need to protect better] and as a group, we just need to be more solid. The more time we can give Aaron the better."

Against the Seahawks, even that might not be enough given how well their secondary covers. On four of the sacks in that game two years ago, Rodgers held the ball longer than 3.5 seconds (including longer than 4.8 on two of them).

Bulaga wasn't responsible for any of the four sacks Chris Clemons had that day, and Clemons has now moved on to the Jacksonville Jaguars, but there's still plenty of motivation for Bulaga -- and the rest of the Packers' offensive line. The environment will be just as difficult, as loud or louder than it was in 2012, and the opponent just as capable. The Seahawks fielded the league's top-ranked defense last season on the way to their Super Bowl title.

"That game is a great example of getting out of your fundamentals, and when those things happen, it can snowball on you," Packers offensive line coach James Campen said. "That's certainly a lesson learned."

This is the start of an important season for Bulaga, the 25-year-old, fifth-year tackle. The former first-round pick is in the final year of his contract. According to McCarthy, Bulaga has come back in better shape than ever -- "He's 15 pounds heavier," McCarthy said -- while Campen insists Bulaga's level of play is back to where it was before the injury.

"He looks better than he did," Campen said.

And what better place to show it than in Seattle.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers' no-huddle machine stops for no one, even if one of the cogs goes missing.

So the loss of starting center JC Tretter, the man who was at the controls of the offensive line for the first three preseason games when the Packers’ no-huddle offense hummed along, will not slow down quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

So promised offensive line coach James Campen, whose job it will be over the next week and a half to get rookie center Corey Linsley up to speed -- literally in this case -- in the Packers' fast-paced offense.

"He will keep the pace," Campen vowed.

The Packers want to field the fastest offense in the NFL. Their goal is to run 75 plays per game. While much of that responsibility falls on Rodgers, the center plays his part, too. The sooner the center gets to the ball and gets the rest of the linemen set, the faster Rodgers can relay the signals to his receivers, running backs and tight ends.

"That is one of his requirements," Campen said. "Get over the ball. Let's get ready. Let's go.”

Luckily for Linsley, a fifth-round pick from Ohio State, he will have help. He will be surrounded by the Packers' two most experienced offensive linemen, guards T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton. They will assist with all of the protection adjustments that must be made at the line of scrimmage when running a no-huddle offense.

"I think he's going to be expected to play at a fast tempo," Rodgers said. "He's got cyborgs on both sides who know exactly what they're doing and what everybody is doing up front. Josh and T.J. are going to be very important to Corey playing as fast as possible, but we have a lot of trust in Corey."

It was going to be a difficult task to run the no-huddle offense in the season opener at Seattle no matter what given the noise at CenturyLink Stadium but with a rookie starter at center who may go the entire preseason without taking a game snap with Rodgers, it could be especially problematic.

In that regard, however, Linsley has one thing going for him: He has played center in loud stadiums before entering the NFL. Playing at Ohio State, he has experienced places like Michigan Stadium (which holds 109,901 fans) and Penn State's Beaver Stadium (107,282).

"I think he's had to do a lot of things without hearing," Campen said. "He'll be fine."
GREEN BAY, Wis. – In a two-series appearance in last Saturday's preseason game at St. Louis, several things stood out from the Green Bay Packers’ starting offense.

Most marveled over quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who had only two incompletions in 13 attempts with 128 yards and one touchdown pass (plus another that was recalled by a penalty); or Eddie Lacy, who averaged 5.0 yards per carry; or receivers Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson, who each caught touchdown passes (although Nelson's was the one wiped out); or the precision of the no-huddle offense.

Perhaps what jumped off the film the most was the play of the right tackle.

In 24 snaps against the Rams, Bryan Bulaga did not allow a sack, hit or hurry, according to It was exactly the same in an eight-snap appearance in the previous week’s preseason opener at Tennessee.

That's an impressive stat line for any NFL tackle, let alone one who went 634 days between game appearances. Before Bulaga played in the preseason opener at Tennessee, his last game came on Nov. 4, 2012, when his season ended because of a hip injury. He never made it to the 2013 preseason opener because of a knee injury that required ACL reconstruction last year.

"You've got a darn good football player back and a guy that works extremely hard, is very professional -- just his presence out there, he's a strong man that moves very well," said Packers offensive line coach James Campen, when asked about Bulaga's impact on the offense. "It obviously is a plus having him out there."

And Bulaga, 25, does not even feel like he's quite back in form yet. He has had to adjust to playing right tackle again after moving to the left side last offseason and get in sync with right guard T.J. Lang after lining up next to Josh Sitton for most of his career.

Three times in an answer to one question, Bulaga talked about the need to get his confidence back, something that he said remains a work in progress.

"I'm getting more and more comfortable, especially every game rep I get," Bulaga said.

The best part, in Bulaga’s mind, is that he has been able to work on that every day in practice. It was his goal while he rehabbed his knee and trained throughout last season to come to training camp without limitations. To do so, he rebuilt his physique, first by losing weight, and then building back up to his playing weight of between 315 and 320 pounds.

Before his ACL tear, Bulaga was on track to becoming one of the NFC's top tackles.

How close is the fifth-year pro to being that again?

"That's a long time ago; it's hard to say that," Campen said. "What I do know is since Day 1 that we put the pads on, as we've progressed, he's gotten better and better."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers appear ready to go forward with JC Tretter as their starting center even if coach Mike McCarthy won't put that in stone just yet.

Tretter has passed every test McCarthy and his coaching staff has put in front of the second-year pro. From the offseason work to the full-pads practices of training camp and through the first preseason game, there has been nothing to suggest that Tretter won't line up in front of quarterback Aaron Rodgers when the regular season opens on Sept. 4 at the Seattle Seahawks.

[+] EnlargeJC Tretter
Jim Brown/USA TODAY SportsJC Tretter battled through harsh playing conditions in his first game at center last Saturday at Tennessee.
"Every day he's gotten better at something and he continues to grow that way," Packers offensive line coach James Campen said. "And a lot of that is because he knows what to do. He doesn't have to sit there and think and have that hold him back. He knows his assignments so well and knows what everyone else is doing, so that just accelerates his growth."

The Packers could not have asked for a tougher assignment for Tretter's first start last Saturday at Tennessee. The monsoon-like conditions made the ball tough to handle, but Tretter and quarterback Matt Flynn did not have a single problem with an exchange in their 16 snaps together.

It won't get any easier on Saturday at St. Louis -- although the weather won't be a factor in the Edward Jones Dome -- where Tretter will have to deal with the defensive tackle combination of Michael Brockers and Aaron Donald, a pair of first-round picks.

"I think JC's off to a great start," McCarthy said. "I think the Tennessee game was definitely impressive. I want to see him stack success anytime you play well. We're getting ready to play against an extremely talented, very good defensive front, so this will be great work for us."

Against the Titans, Tretter handled both his pass-protection and run-blocking duties with only one correction -- a technique mistake -- needed in the postgame film review.

"Talking with the other offensive linemen, they feel comfortable with him," said Flynn, who started in place of Rodgers. "It was nice that he played really well this past weekend. That was a good sign, and I think he's going to grow more and more and faster because of the two guards [T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton] around him."

But one game does not make an NFL center. Before last Saturday, Tretter had never played in an NFL game and had never snapped a ball at any level. He spent his entire college career as a tackle at Cornell and then did not play at all last season as a rookie after breaking his ankle in his first OTA practice.

"I still think I haven’t made the transition fully yet," Tretter said. "It's still a work in progress. It's kind of a mentality, it's kind of a mindset that we came into it understanding that there was going to be bumps. There are going to be days where it didn't look good but as long as we continued to correct our mistakes and build off our successes, I'd continue to become a better player and that's kind of how we went into it and that's how we kind of stayed throughout."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- On most days when the Green Bay Packers assistant coaches are available to reporters, they line up in the hallway outside the locker room.

On Wednesday, however, the defensive coaches were sent to the media auditorium and the offensive coaches held court in an auxiliary interview room across the hall.

And no, it wasn't just to keep offensive line coach James Campen and linebackers coach Winston Moss separated.

That, however, was necessary at practice a few hours earlier. That the two-hour and four-minute session featured a handful of fights was not as unusual as the fact that the two assistant coaches engaged in a very public shouting match on Ray Nitschke Field. That's not something that happens every day, even during the heat of training camp.

It happened during the most physical drill of camp, the combo running drill -- a rock 'em-sock 'em contest of strength to either run the ball or stop it. Only minutes earlier in the same drill, linebacker Jamari Lattimore and left guard Josh Sitton got into a fight that blew up into the largest scrum of camp.

A few plays later, the Campen-Moss blowup occurred.

It was never much more than a war of words, but it left even the players surprised to see it.

"That's the first time I've seen that since I've been here," said guard T.J. Lang, who is in his sixth season.

No one was quite sure what started it, but the combatants offered their versions.

"I was admiring Winston's beard," Campen said. "He's got a new beard this year, does he not? Yeah, It's an impressive beard. I wanted to get a closer look and took the opportunity to do that. Hey, it's an intense practice. Everything is fine. It's no big deal. I like his beard. It's nice."

Campen said Moss then retorted with a comment about his weight.

"He talked about my beard; I talked about how small his T-shirt was," Moss said. "It kind of escalated from there. I don't know what happened. It was high energy, high spirit. It was fun more than anything.

"You don't see too many coaches get after it. But to me, it was just fun. I hope he's fine. I hope he didn't take it personal."

No one was surprised that it was a spirited practice. In the morning meetings, the players could sense it was coming. To hear Lang tell it, the offense got the better of the defense in their previous full-pads practice on Monday, so he figured the defense would come back with some fight.

"We knew it was going to happen," receiver Jordy Nelson said. "They juiced us up in the meeting room."

It was almost exactly what coach Mike McCarthy wanted. He called it "the practice we needed" but added that "emotion definitely got in the way in a few instances today and that's something we've got to learn from."

There were several other skirmishes during the practice, including one between Lang and cornerback Jarrett Bush, and even a few punches thrown.

"Right now, it's offense versus defense," Sitton said. "I'm out there protecting my offensive guys. We always talk, 'Don't punch anybody.' I don't think that happened today. I think there was definitely a few punches thrown. They tell us to just be smart and protect your teammates."

When asked whether he was smart, Sitton said: "I might have been stupid today."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Derek Sherrod tried to downplay it. After all, it was only a preseason game.

Besides, the Green Bay Packers offensive tackle suited up for seven regular-season games last season.

But this was different.

Sherrod actually played. And played and played.

The six snaps he saw in the Thanksgiving 2013 blowout loss at Detroit aside, the former first-round draft pick had not played any extended stretch of offensive snaps since he broke both bones in his lower right leg late in his rookie season of 2011. Most of his action when he returned to the roster late last season for the first time in nearly two years came on special teams, which meant a play and a play there.

This, however, was a 45-snap stint with the No. 2 offensive line in Saturday's preseason opener at the Tennessee Titans that just may have represented an important step in his comeback, if for no other reason than it may have been a mental hurdle he needed to clear.

Except he did not quite see it that way.

"Not really," Sherrod said. "Going into training camp, I was ready to go, 100 percent."

Sherrod came on in relief of starting left tackle David Bakhtiari for the second series against the Titans and finished the half before moving to right tackle to start the third quarter. He did not allow a sack and, according to, he did not give up a quarterback hit or pressure, either.

"Derek, frankly, that might be the best he's played since he's been here," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "So I thought he definitely took a step."

Sherrod's importance to the Packers was heightened last week when Don Barclay was lost for the season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Barclay was the Packers' swing tackle who also could back up both guard spots.

If Sherrod shows he can perform well and hold up over long stretches, it would ease Barclay's loss.

"I'm really proud of him, the way he's handled his business," offensive line coach James Campen said. "The thing that people don't understand is the amount of work that was done to get him prepared for this moment, to be able to go out and compete. It's a great tribute to him and who's he about and what he's about. He's as classy of a kid as they come. He will earn everything that he gets. It's been a long road for him, but we're past that. It's a bright future for him. It's exciting to see him out there playing. It's fun."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Between now and the Green Bay Packers' first training camp practice on July 26, we will break down each position group.

Next up is the offensive line.

Returning players: David Bakhtiari, Bryan Bulaga, JC Tretter, T.J. Lang, Josh Sitton, Don Barclay, Derek Sherrod, Lane Taylor, Aaron Adams, Andrew Tiller, Garth Gerhart.

Gone from last season: Evan Dietrich-Smith, Marshall Newhouse, Greg Van Roten.

New this season: Corey Linsley (fifth-round pick), Jeremy Vujnovich (street free agent), Jordan McCray (undrafted rookie), John Fullington (undrafted rookie).

Position coach: James Campen (eighth season, previously was assistant offensive line coach from 2004-06).

Biggest issue: For the fourth straight season, there will be a new starting center. Tretter is the favorite for the job, but the fact remains that he has never played in an NFL game – not even a preseason game. And he's never played center. Other than that, what's to worry about? Nevertheless, the Packers are high on the second-year player who spent the entire offseason working with the No. 1 offensive line. Tretter did not play at all last season after he broke his ankle during his first OTA practice as a rookie.

Player to watch: Bakhtiari had what Campen described as "a very good season for a rookie" last year when he stepped in as the starting left tackle after Bulaga blew out his knee during the Family Night scrimmage and was lost for the season. Now, as Campen said, "we expect him to make that next step and have a very good season." The former fourth-round pick played well enough as a rookie, despite allowing 10 sacks (including playoffs), according to, that Campen and coach Mike McCarthy decided to leave him at left tackle and move Bulaga back to the right side. Bakhtiari added about 10 pounds this offseason in an effort to improve his run blocking and better handle pass-rusher's bull-rush moves.

Medical report: Bulaga was cleared to return to practice at the start of the offseason program and made it through the OTAs and minicamp wearing a large brace on his reconstructed left knee. Meanwhile, Sherrod went through the complete offseason program for the first time in his four-year NFL career after breaking his leg late in his rookie season of 2011. Sherrod worked exclusively as Bakhtiari's backup at left tackle this offseason.

Help wanted: If Tretter does not play well enough to win the starting job, the Packers could go with rookie fifth-round pick Corey Linsley. Unlike Tretter, who played tackle in college at Cornell, Linsley is a center by trade. He started 26 straight games at center in his last two seasons at Ohio State.

Quotable: "I think I've had five centers now," Sitton said. "So it's tough because you learn one guy and you get used to doing drills next to one guy and you just jell and you know exactly where their foot's going to be and you've going to be right next to each other. Dietrich was a hell of a player, there was no doubt about it. I really enjoyed playing next to him. But that's what we do. I've played next to, I don't know, 12 tackles since I've been here, so I'm definitely used to playing next to different players. It gives T.J. and I a little bit of a challenge to get him up to speed. It makes it interesting. It's fun teaching him and bringing him along."

Previous installments

Monday: Quarterbacks

Tuesday: Running backs

Wednesday: Receivers

Thursday: Tight ends

Time to step up: Derek Sherrod

July, 10, 2014
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson say it every offseason: It is not the rookies who will make the difference for the Green Bay Packers but rather the returning players.

With that in mind, we continue our look at some returning players who need to take their game to another level in 2014.

Next, it's tackle Derek Sherrod.

Why he has to step up: Entering his fourth NFL season, the former first-round draft pick has yet to start a single game. In three years, he has appeared in only 13 games (including one in the postseason). Seven of those came last season, when he finally returned to the active roster for the first time since he broke both bones in his lower right leg on Dec. 18, 2011. Sherrod took only six snaps on offense last season. The rest of his playing time came on special teams. This offseason, the Packers declined to pick up the fifth-year option on his deal, meaning he is in the final year of his rookie contract.

What he has to do: With his leg injury apparently behind him, Sherrod was able to participate in the entire offseason program for the first time in his career. Now, he must transfer that offseason work over to training camp and preseason action and show that he's still the player the Packers envisioned when they picked him 32nd overall in 2011.

Outlook: Offensive line coach James Campen kept Sherrod at right tackle behind starter Bryan Bulaga the entire offseason. Most backup offensive linemen must play multiple positions, but the Packers want Sherrod to concentrate on a single position given all the time that he has missed because of the broken leg.

Quotable: "The kid looks terrific," Campen said. "The next step for him is to get him into the daily grind, put the pads on and go pound it. That's his next step, but we've been very pleased with where he's come from."

Previous installments

Part one: Morgan Burnett

Part two: Nick Perry

Part three: Datone Jones

Part four: Jerel Worthy

Part five: Brad Jones

Part six: Davon House

Part seven: B.J. Raji

Part eight: Andrew Quarless
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Here's a look at what stood out from the Green Bay Packers' minicamp practice on Thursday:

1. Veterans gone: For the final practice of the team's mandatory minicamp, coach Mike McCarthy excused all veterans with five or more years of experience. Without the 16 players that fit into that category, it gave the rookies and younger players more reps than they had received at any point previously in the offseason. But it meant this week's mandatory minicamp was essentially one day of football for the full squad because the Packers spent Wednesday at their annual team-building event, which this year was bowling.

"A lot of younger players got a lot of reps today that did not have the opportunity in the other practices," McCarthy said Thursday.

2. Tolzien shines: With Aaron Rodgers and Matt Flynn among those excused from practice, it gave young quarterbacks Scott Tolzien and Chase Rettig the chance to run the offense. For Tolzien, it was his first time getting starter reps since the weeks leading up to his two starts last season against the Giants and Vikings. Tolzien looked especially sharp in the red zone. On consecutive plays, he threw short touchdowns to his former University Wisconsin teammate Jared Abbrederis and tight end Brandon Bostick. The throw to Bostick was a perfectly thrown fade in the left corner of the end zone.

"I think any time that guys are relying on you and you're the first guy in the huddle, that's a big chance for you," Tolzien said. "But at the same time it shouldn't really change how you are. You should prepare like a starter every day."

3. Rettig's reps: Any reps for Rettig would have been more than normal given that the fourth quarterback on the depth chart rarely gets any work during team periods, so Thursday was big for the undrafted rookie from Boston College. There's no guarantee the Packers will take four quarterbacks to camp, but Rettig helped his cause with a few nice throws. He hit tight end Ryan Taylor in stride on a seam route and also connected with receiver Kevin Dorsey and tight end Richard Rodgers.

4. Changing duties: At one point during position drills, defensive line coach Mike Trgovac worked with the offensive linemen. A few yards away, offensive line coach James Campen ran the defensive line drill. That was something new this offseason, but it makes senses that a defensive line coach could give pointers to offensive linemen and vice versa.

5. Bradford's bat down: Rookie outside linebacker Carl Bradford made perhaps the most impressive defensive play of the practice when he batted down a pass attempt by Rettig on a two-point conversion try. The fourth-round pick from Arizona State showed his athletic ability by leaping and swatting the ball away with two hands.

6. Changing of the guard: With starting guards T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton among the veterans excused from practice, Don Barclay and Lane Taylor worked with the No. 1 offensive line. Barclay played left guard, while Taylor lined up on the right side. It showed how committed the Packers are to leaving Derek Sherrod at left tackle. As a rookie in 2011, Sherrod battled Lang for a starting job at guard. Instead, he remained as the backup left tackle.

7. Roll call, part 1: The 16 veterans excused on Thursday were: kicker Mason Crosby, cornerback Jarrett Bush, fullback John Kuhn, cornerback Tramon Williams, linebacker A.J. Hawk, linebacker Clay Matthews, linebacker/defensive end Julius Peppers, linebacker Brad Jones, long snapper Brett Goode, receiver Jordy Nelson, defensive tackle B.J. Raji, defensive tackle Letroy Guion, Flynn, Rodgers, Lang and Sitton.

8. Roll call, part 2: The following players attended practice but did not participate: receiver Chris Harper, cornerback Jumal Rolle, linebacker Nick Perry, tight end Andrew Quarless and defensive end Jerel Worthy. Running back Johnathan Franklin, who will be waived/injured on Friday because of a career-ending neck injury, was not present.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Derek Sherrod is entering his fourth NFL season, yet this is the first time the Green Bay Packers' former first-round draft pick has gone through the entire offseason program.

And he's going to need it.

Finally healthy and fully able to participate in coach Mike McCarthy's program for the first time he broke both bones in his lower right leg as a rookie, Sherrod might be down to his last chance to prove that he can play.

The Packers declined the fifth-year option that all 2011 first-round draft picks had in their contracts, meaning Sherrod is in the final season of his rookie contract. Only 11 of the 32 first-round picks from 2011 did not have their options exercised. Sherrod is scheduled to make $1,275,273 this season.

The fifth-year option would have forced the Packers to pay Sherrod $7.438 million next season, which would have been guaranteed if Sherrod sustained an injury this season that kept him out in 2015.

In that regard, it was an easy decision to decline the option, and even Sherrod, who has not started a game in his first three seasons, knows it.

"I had a little idea because I haven't been able to play for a while," Sherrod said in his first public comments since the team declined his option last month. "That's just the business of everything, and I understand."

After missing the entire 2012 season while recovering from the surgery to place a rod in his right leg, Sherrod finally returned to the roster in Week 11 of last season after beginning the season on the physically unable to perform list. He played in seven games, almost exclusively on special teams except for six snaps at right tackle in the final minutes of the Thanksgiving day blowout loss at the Detroit Lions.

"It was a long process before that point, just getting back there and actually getting offensive snaps," Sherrod said. "It felt pretty good just to get that live action and be in that environment."

This offseason, Sherrod has worked exclusively at left tackle – the spot the Packers envisioned for the 6-foot-6, 321-pounder when they took him with the 32nd overall pick more than three years ago. Almost all of his reps have come as starter Bryan Bulaga's backup.

"It's meant a lot," Sherrod said. "Technically, it's my first offseason activities and just going through and getting all these extra reps and going through the plays and actually running them, that was very beneficial. I felt like it was all beneficial."

Offensive line coach James Campen used one word – "huge," which he actually said twice – to describe what it has meant for Sherrod to go through the full offseason program.

"Because he's never had an offseason," Campen continued. "I mean, you see his movements out there, and we just got done watching the tape [of Tuesday's practice]. The kid looks terrific. The next step for him is to get him into the daily grind, put the pads on and go pound it."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers' last starting center was a left tackle in college. So was one of the leading contenders to replace him.

That's what makes rookie Corey Linsley so unusual – and so refreshing – at least for the Packers.

The fifth-round pick from Ohio State is a center prospect who actually played center.

[+] EnlargeCorey Linsley
AP Photo/Jeff HaynesSafe to say that Packers offensive live coach James Campen is eager to work with rookie Corey Linsley. "I love his toughness, what he brings," Campen said.
"It's good to finally draft one that's played the position before," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said after last weekend's draft. "We're all excited about that. I know [offensive line coach] James Campen's real excited."

Before general manager Ted Thompson picked Linsley at No. 161 overall in the draft, the Packers' leading candidate to replace Evan Dietrich-Smith, who signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency, was JC Tretter. A fourth-round pick last season, Tretter started at tackle for two years at Cornell after converting from tight end.

With Linsley, center is just about all he has known.

"I've felt at home at center since I got to Ohio State," Linsley said. "I always knew that was one of my better positions. Obviously, it took a little work for me to excel at the position. I've felt at home at center for a while."

After dabbling at guard and tackle early in his college career, the 6-foot-2, 296-pound native of Youngstown, Ohio, started 26 straight games at center for the Buckeyes over his final two seasons.

"He's a true center," said Linsley's agent, Bill Conaty.

Conaty should know. He spent nine seasons in the NFL as a center with the Buffalo Bills, Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals before getting his law degree and becoming an agent.

"He's an extremely smart player, and extremely strong," Conaty said of his client. "He's got great hands. That's one of the biggest things is his hands. He's got good, quick hands."

Linsley was the sixth of 10 centers selected in last weekend's draft, but only one of them – North Carolina's Russell Bodine (a fourth-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals) – put up more reps on the 225-pound bench press at the scouting combine than Linsley. Bodine did 42 reps, six more than Linsley.

"I love his toughness, what he brings," said Campen, a former NFL center. "He really is what you're looking for from a mental standpoint. He's very physical. He goes after people, is a tempo-setter. He plays a physical brand of football."

Meanwhile, Tretter remains a bit of an unknown. He broke his ankle last May during an OTA practice and never took a single practice rep in training camp. He finally came off the physically unable to perform list on Dec. 10, although he did not play in any games.

In practice, he spent part of his time working at center for the first time in his playing career.

"When he came off of the PUP and was practicing, the majority of it obviously with the [scout] teams," Campen said. "He progressed every single week. That kid is a very headstrong kid, knows all the assignments and he's ready to go and compete. He wants to be the starting center also, just like everyone else does."

Campen and McCarthy will get their first extended look at their new center prospect on Friday morning, when the Packers begin their rookie orientation camp.

"It will be good just to have a natural center come in and play that position, and I view him as a center," McCarthy said. "I know we historically move our guys around, but I think it's important for him to come in and play center."