Former Practice Squad Player Pushes For Starting Position

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Growing up, Atlas Herrion wanted to become a running back -- perhaps the reincarnation of another Alabama native, Bo Jackson. Then during his sophomore and junior years at Daphne (Ala.) High School he grew four inches, and the NFL does not have a great demand for six-feet, four-inch running backs.

"I figured I better get my hand in the dirt," he said.

That's a good thing for the Green Bay Packers because with Ahman Green, Najeh Davenport and Tony Fisher, the team does not need another running back but has a spot on the line following the offseason departures of Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle as free agents.

Herrion, a former University of Alabama star, continues to rotate with Matt O'Dwyer at the starting right guard position.

"He's done a fine job for us," offensive line coach Larry Beightol said. "We like what we see there."

That's impressive praise for an undrafted free agent, who spent 2004 on the practice squad after the Packers cut him following training camp.

But last year proved to be an effective learning experience. He observed crafty veterans like Mike Flanagan and Wahle and Rivera. He attended all the meetings and now he has mastered the offensive line scheme.

"Everything was just flying last year," he said. "Now everything's slowing down."

After performing well during the offseason, he earned looks as a starter. During Friday night's scrimmage, the Packers matched him against one of the league's best defensive tackles, the Buffalo Bills' Sam Adams.

"Atlas held his own," Beightol said.

Herrion, who is just 24-years-old, still needs to improve his pass protection skills. His hands sometimes slip too far outside when containing pass rusher.

He plays better in the running game, particularly on combo blocks. The guard double teams with a tackle or center to block a defensive lineman on that play -- a staple of the running game.

Even if his pass protections skills match his run blocking abilities, he faces a challenge to win the starting spot among a deep pool of guards.

"He's in good competition there," Sherman said.

Whether he wins the job or not, one thing is for sure. Herrion will not return to the practice squad this year.

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