It’s T.J. Lang’s job to hold or lose.
Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy pronounced Lang as the leader for the team’s starting left guard job on Monday, then gave every indication it’s Lang’s job to keep if his performance remains at its current level or higher.
In other news, the Packers have lost linebacker Frank Zombo for what McCarthy termed a “significant amount of time.” Zombo sustained a broken scapula in pregame this past Friday, then played the game with the injury before being diagnosed.
“We’re going to go with T.J. with the ones all week. It’s T.J.’s responsibility to hang onto that job,” McCarthy told reporters following Monday’s practice at Ray Nitschke Field.
“T.J. will run exclusively with the ones at left guard. I have to give him a chance to prepare for that job. We feel this is the time to lock in. T.J. needs to take full advantage of this opportunity.”
Lang has been in a battle for the job with first-round draft pick Derek Sherrod, who began training camp as the first-in at the position. Sherrod was the starter in the preseason opener in Cleveland, but Lang was the starter this past Friday against Arizona. The two players have alternated series and have also played left tackle.
Sherrod allowed two sacks against the Cardinals and that likely sealed the deal for Lang. Sherrod also sustained a minor knee injury on Friday and did not practice on Monday, though McCarthy said he hopes Sherrod will practice on Tuesday.
“We factored everything in. T.J.’s performance grade was above Sherrod’s. I like what I saw there. T.J. has been here, has the experience. He’s taken a big step,” McCarthy said.
Sherrod, the 32nd pick of this year’s draft, played left tackle and guard at Mississippi State and he was likely cross-trained at the two positions in training camp with the day in mind that he’ll become the Packers’ left tackle. More seasoning, however, is needed.
“Our footwork is different. Our scheme is different. Physically, he’s everything we expected. I like the way he fits in the room. I’m glad he’s here,” McCarthy said.
Might this setback damage his confidence?
“He’s a man’s man. I’m not worried about him from a personality standpoint. I’m confident he’ll be a starter at Green Bay at some point. In the long run, this will be a positive experience,” McCarthy said, referring to Sherrod’s cross-training.
Zombo’s injury, combined with a knee sprain that caused linebacker Brad Jones to miss practice, leaves the Packers thin at linebacker. McCarthy, of course, never cries the injury blues.
“I feel we have good, quality depth. It gives Erik Walden more reps and gives us more information on those young guys,” McCarthy said.
The coach would not speculate when asked if the injury makes Zombo a candidate for injured reserve.
Rookie wide receiver Randall Cobb also missed practice on Monday. Cobb was nursing bruises on both knees.
McCarthy confirmed that he’s taking more of a regular-season approach to this week’s preparation, which includes a game plan for Friday’s game in Indianapolis, but the emphasis will remain on player evaluation.
Monday’s practice was plus-10 minutes in tempo, which clearly pleased the coach, and the session was highlighted by quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ hot hand. Rodgers completed touchdown passes to Jermichael Finley in the front-left and front-right corners of the end zone in a red-zone drill, then capped the drill with a touchdown toss to Donald Driver. The throws to Finley bordered on artistic.
Former Packers General Manager Ron Wolf was present at practice and he chatted with Driver during pre-practice stretching. Wolf drafted Driver in the seventh round of the 1999 draft.
James Starks, Brett Swain, Brandon Underwood and Clay Matthews returned to practice. Mike Neal was a non-participant but McCarthy offered what would seem to be encouraging news.
“Whatever the next category up is, let’s put him in that category,” McCarthy said. He’s hopeful Neal’s injured left knee will be healed enough to allow him to play on Friday.