Green Bay's Lambeau Field brings a different atmosphere than any stadium Jason Shirley ever played at for Fresno State. For his first time playing in an NFL game, albeit an exhibition contest, the Bengals rookie defensive tackle got a good glimpse of what Sunday afternoons are going to be like.
The Bengals got a good glimpse of their future frontline foundation against the Packers. Sherry and fellow rookie Pat Sims worked a lot in the 20-17 preseason opening win at Green Bay last Monday and their workload will only increase tonight when the Bengals host Detroit.
For a defense attempting to shelve its reputation of being the anchor holding the Bengals back Sims and Sherry are important parts to the transformation.
"I think they are going to be a big asset to us," said right guard Bobbie Williams. "I like what I see from them. Sherry is a big guy; he's got a big frame and is a strong guy and if he gets the right tutelage like he's getting from John (Thornton) he and Pat are going to be good. You see some things from them that are just natural, especially with Pat. He has a lot of athleticism and he's strong. He reminds me of a Warren Sapp-type."
How the Bengals draft class of 2008 is ultimately judged could come down to how well Sims turns out to be. The Bengals selected him in the third round after taking linebacker Keith Rivers in the first round and wide receiver Jerome Simpson in Round 2. There was much speculation the Bengals would trade up in the first round to select Sedrick Ellis, one of the top two rated defensive tackles in the draft, but they instead held their ground at No. 9.
Ellis went seventh overall to New Orleans, which did pull the trade trigger. The Saints gave up a third round pick to New England to switch out of the No. 10 spot. The Bengals received criticism for not making a trade but with Rivers and Sims (6-2, 320) in the fold they believe they have improved at two spots instead of just one. Shirley (6-5, 338) was selected in the fifth round to further address the need.
When the defense has proven to be as leaky and inconsistent as the Bengals have (they have finished no better than 19th overall in the five-year Marvin Lewis era, including 27th last season) there are plenty of voids to fill.
"Maybe we don't have the best 11 defensive players but maybe collectively we have 22 that can make 11," was how defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer explained the group he has to work with in his first season with the Bengals.
Thornton and third-year player Domata Peko are the starters on the line, with Sims and veteran Michael Myers working on the second unit. The Bengals recently signed Peko to a long-term contract extension. Thornton is in his 10th season in the league and entering the final year of a six-year deal he signed in 2003 to become one of the first free agents to come to Cincinnati after Lewis was hired. Myers is in his 13th season and second with the Bengals.
"I think I did pretty good – I wasn't great but for the most part I did do things right," said Sims about his play at Green Bay. "I put pressure on the quarterback and pushed the pocket. I didn't really make any plays but I did play within the system."
Shirley, who is listed on the third team with rookie free agent Antwon Burton didn't self-grade as highly.
"I was average. A lot of improvement is going to happen this week and with time," said Shirley. "Coming from college you know the speed is going to be different. It was about getting everything slowed down in my mind so I could see everything. I had to calm myself down for that first game in the NFL and it being at Lambeau Field."
The final stats from Green Bay showed each player credited with making one tackle. There is much more to playing on the defensive line than the stat sheet can ever tell. That's why Williams sees so much potential in Sims and Sherry as he squares off against them in practice.
"That's probably true but they need to keep on taking steps towards becoming NFL football players," said defensive line coach Jay Hayes. "They're not there yet. I hope that they will get there soon but the jury is still out. They will work and play a bunch of snaps. That much I know."