The Packers should have their full stable of running backs available on Sunday night, but they may be a little thin up front on the defensive side of the ball.
Running backs James Starks and Brandon Saine were both full participants in practice the last two days and were declared probable on the injury report on Friday.
Starks has missed the last two games with knee and ankle injuries. From the moment Saine departed the Oakland game two weeks ago with a concussion, the offense was left with just two ball-carriers in Ryan Grant and John Kuhn for the rest of that game and for last week in Kansas City.
For a night game that could feature the run, with temperatures in the 20s and possibly some snow, Head Coach Mike McCarthy should have all backfield options at his disposal on Sunday.
“Definitely,” McCarthy said. “Two running backs in a game is tough duty. It will be great to have the rotation back.”
Grant rushed 22 times for 151 yards (6.9 avg.) over the past two games while Starks rested the injuries that kept getting re-aggravated over the previous three-game stretch. Starks wasn’t limited at all in practice this week, proof that the time off was worthwhile.
“It did justice for me,” he said. “I was running around limping all the time, just trying to push through it, but at the same time I was hurting the team, I think. The little rest helped me a lot.
“I do feel a lot fresher than I was. Two weeks isn’t that long of a break. You’re still going to have little nicks and bruises here and there, but I feel a lot better than I was. I’m fine.”
The Packers’ defensive line isn’t in the same condition, unfortunately.
Ryan Pickett missed his second straight week of practice due to a concussion. He is out and now Mike Neal is questionable on the injury report with a shoulder injury.
If Neal can’t play, the Packers will have only four healthy defensive linemen – B.J. Raji, Howard Green, Jarius Wynn and C.J. Wilson – against a running game the Bears will want to feature with Josh McCown making his first NFL start at quarterback in four years.
“That’s the situation we’re in,” McCarthy said. “I’m hopeful Mike Neal will be ready to go.
“We’re prepared for it. It’s this time of year. Everybody goes through it. Both teams, Chicago and ourselves, have injuries to overcome.”
Among other positions, the Bears will be shorthanded at running back, with Matt Forte out and Marion Barber expected to be sidelined with a calf injury, leaving Kahlil Bell as the starter.
Still, the Bears no doubt saw film of the Chiefs, without their top rusher in Jamaal Charles, racking up 139 yards on the ground last week against the Packers.
“It’s going to be ground-and-pound football, and you have to have your work hat on for that,” said Green, the 340-pound veteran, who joins Raji as a primary run-stuffer in Pickett’s absence. “That’s a man’s job. I accept the challenge. That’s what I love to do, that’s what I’ve been labeled as, so let’s get it on.”
Added McCarthy: “It’s the same game almost every time these two teams line up, and it’s going to start up front. We’re expecting all of our linemen to factor in this game.” Additional coverage - Dec. 23