That’s putting it mildly. Eight players, most of them starters, sat out practice altogether on Wednesday and the team is still seeking more information on the injuries to linebackers Brandon Chillar and Nick Barnett.
There’s no telling exactly how the starting lineup will shake out for Sunday’s game in Washington until the entire week of practice and injury evaluation is completed, but the Packers already know they have to replace rookie safety Morgan Burnett and there may be adjustments at inside linebacker and on the offensive line as well.
Here’s a breakdown of where things stand at those three position groups most affected by the injury bug at the moment:
Both Chillar (shoulder) and Barnett (wrist) are getting second opinions on their injuries this week. McCarthy acknowledged it’s “doubtful” Chillar will be able to play Sunday and also that there’s a possibility of Barnett missing significant time.
Chillar hurt his shoulder in Week 3 at Chicago and hasn’t returned to the field since. He told reporters on Wednesday that he’s going for another MRI on Thursday to try to pinpoint the problem, which is to a shoulder that’s been operated on in the past.
“We haven’t been able to figure out what it looks like on the MRI, so that’s the plan is to get a better MRI to get a real diagnosis,” he said. “Then after I get that, I can attack it and make a plan.”
Meanwhile, McCarthy said Barnett has been getting treatment on his wrist every day and is seeing another doctor on Friday, so that presumably means he won’t practice on Thursday either. Barnett hurt the wrist last Sunday against Detroit, and X-rays taken initially were negative, so he had a splint put on his hand and returned to the game.
Barnett indicated after the game he thought he’d be fine, but the additional testing could mean the injury is more complicated than originally thought.
If neither Chillar nor Barnett can play in Washington, the only two healthy inside linebackers currently are A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop. They would start and likely play the whole game. It’s unclear what the defense would do should one of them also go down, but a roster move could be made by the end of the week to fortify the depth.
Capers also has been known to get creative with personnel groupings and he’d likely have to come up with something that utilized more outside linebackers if needed. Green Bay’s linebackers pride themselves on being versatile, and that trait may come in handy if any more injuries arise.
“When you have guys who, one, know what they’re doing and, two, have experience at what they’re doing, it only makes coming in for guys that get a little dinged up an easier transition,” outside linebacker Brady Poppinga said. “That type of rotating and versatility … makes the transition a lot more seamless.”
The replacement for Burnett, who is out for the season with a torn ACL in his knee, will be one of three players – Charlie Peprah, Derrick Martin or hybrid cornerback/safety Jarrett Bush.
One problem is that Peprah (quadriceps) and Martin (ankle) are both on the injury report as well, though both were listed as full participants on Wednesday and expect to be able to play.
Another problem is that the other starting safety, Pro Bowler Nick Collins, remains on the injury report with a lingering knee issue from the Week 3 contest in Chicago. Collins sat out practice on Wednesday, but McCarthy indicated he’s following the same pattern as last week, when he returned to practice late in the week and still played.
“It’s not any worse,” Collins said of his knee. “It’s actually better than what it was. We’re moving forward.
“They’re real cautious around here and don’t want me to do something crazy.”
So assuming Collins can play, there’s only Burnett’s spot up in the air. Peprah has been the team’s No. 3 safety and likely would have replaced Burnett when he left last Sunday’s game, but he was out with the quad injury. The fifth-year veteran, who played his first three seasons with the Packers from 2006-08, has one start to his credit, coincidentally in Week 5 exactly two years ago (vs. Atlanta).
Peprah didn’t play for the Packers last season but he was with the team all throughout the offseason and training camp as the defense made the transition to Dom Capers’ 3-4 scheme, so he’s been familiar with it since returning to Green Bay this past spring. As with all injury replacements, he knows the expectation is he will know his assignments and be as prepared as those who played in front of him.
“That’s the sport, people go down and the next person’s got to step up and pull the weight,” said Peprah, who explained that he originally injured his quad on punt coverage in Week 2 vs. Buffalo and then aggravated it in practice the following week, forcing him to miss the last two games. “No dropoff. That’s why they brought me back and that’s what I’m here for.
“Anytime you’re out there on the field, you have to take advantage of it. It’s a chance to show the league and everybody what you can do. But more importantly, I just want to help the team win. We have a goal we want to accomplish, and I don’t want to be the reason we can’t accomplish that goal. I want to be able to plug right in and pick up where we left off.”
Martin played the final 2½ quarters for Burnett last Sunday so he has that game experience to fall back on should he get the call. Bush hasn’t played much safety since the first half of last season, but he has had reps there each of the last two years.
“We’ve got a great group of guys that have been around this system and understand what we’re trying to do as a team,” Collins said. “We just have to put in more time studying film, understanding our game plan for the week. The guys are eager. They’re ready. Hopefully I’m going to go out there with them and be ready, and we’ll go from there.”
Left tackle Chad Clifton (knee) sat out practice on Wednesday, but McCarthy said he’s on his usual practice schedule and is expected to go through Thursday’s full-pads workout.
The news is that right tackle Mark Tauscher has been added to the injury report with a shoulder sprain that McCarthy said occurred on special teams last Sunday. Tauscher sat out practice on Wednesday, but McCarthy said he’s feeling better now than he did on Monday.
In any event, the Packers are preparing both backup tackles, Bryan Bulaga and T.J. Lang, this week. Bulaga got some work at right tackle on Wednesday and could get the nod if Tauscher can’t play. Lang has been inactive the first four games this season but is another option, and he’ll almost certainly be active this week because Bulaga is Clifton’s top backup as well.
Bulaga spent all of training camp at the left tackle and left guard spots, so moving to the right side is something new. He doesn’t think it will take him long to adjust, though.
“I think I was feeling pretty good toward the end of practice with it,” he said. “I got a good comfort level on where I want my set. We’ll watch it on film here in a little bit and see how goofy I was. But I felt OK. It felt fine. The more reps I get, the better I’ll feel with it.
“Being that sixth guy in the rotation you have to be able to move around and play a couple of different spots. Jason (Spitz) covers a lot of the inside three, and obviously with the tackles, I’ll cover that. You just have to be ready to go. You never know when your number is going to be called.”
Additional coverage – Oct. 6