With left guard for the Green Bay Packers one of the few starting jobs up for grabs, plus the addition of 1st round OL Derek Sherrod to the mix, this was one group of players that I watched closely on Saturday night against the Browns.
When I watch these players, I'm not evaluating them on based on this one game alone. If someone struggles in the first game, and then continues to struggle, that's a problem. Right now, I'm looking for the start of a trend, or signs of improvement.
Sherrod and T.J. Lang. They played most of the game on the left side, with Lang and Sherrod each playing one series alongside LT Chad Clifton, and then alternating between left tackle and left guard for the rest of the game. They looked good, but neither player appeared to be challenged on their first two series. While at tackle, Sherrod left one defender unblocked as he ran around him, and that defender got a hit on Matt Flynn for a sack. And a linebacker came unblocked off the left side on a sack and fumble that was returned for a touchdown while Graham Harrell was in at QB. I initially blamed Lang for the miscue, or it could have been rookie TE D.J. Williams's blocking responsibility, but obviously it was a big mistake. From JS Online:
"I don't know if it was anybody's fault," Lang said. "It was a perfect play call. We got kind of clogged up in the middle. That's something we'll have to look at."
As for the other guys looking to earn a roster spot, it was generally a rough night. Second year C Nick McDonald played well, which is good because he'll probably be the top backup at center and right guard. But it was a brutal night for second year tackle Marshall Newhouse and rookie sixth round pick Caleb Schlauderaff. At right tackle, Newhouse was often overwhelmed by nearly every move made by the defensive end, and he let his man go straight for the quarterback on a few occasions. It wasn't much better for Schlauderaff, who struggled badly in pass protection at right guard before moving over to play some left guard in the 4th quarter.
There were some more problems as 3rd year C Evan Dietrich-Smith had a botched snap on the goal line to Harrell late in the 4th quarter. And undrafted rookie Theo Sherman recovered two fumbles by Harrell after the pass rush got past him.
A lot of these guys are moving back-and-forth between various positions right now, and this should have been their worst game of the preseason. Newhouse had a bad preseason game last year to start his NFL career, but he was much better as the preseason went on. The most important thing is to see how these players respond over the next couple weeks.