Figuring out which cornerbacks will play in the preseason opener in Cleveland got a little complicated Thursday night for Mike McCarthy and his coaching staff.
For the first time during camp, the 11-on-11 team periods were run with scout-team looks, meaning one side of the ball was running its own scheme while the other was mimicking Cleveland’s.
In the defensive backfield, cornerbacks Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams both did their work on the scout team rather than with the regular defense, which in the past has been an indication of little, if any, playing time in an upcoming preseason game.
But then two plays before the end of practice, Sam Shields went down awkwardly when he collided with undrafted rookie wide receiver Tori Gurley over the middle. Both players got their hands on the pass and, as Shields ripped it away for an interception, he went down and stayed down for a while.
Initially, there appeared to be a lot of concern for Shields before he limped off under his own power. After practice, McCarthy called the injury a “bruised hip pointer,” and didn’t sound overly alarmed, but it might throw a wrinkle into the cornerback plans for Saturday’s game.
Rookies Davon House and Brandian Ross haven’t practiced this week due to hamstring injuries, which leaves Jarrett Bush, Pat Lee and Josh Gordy as the only other corners remaining on the depth chart.
“It was a concern today when we went through the initial play time,” McCarthy said. “We’ll take until Saturday’s meeting to see how a couple of these guys come out injury-wise. We’re definitely thin at corner.”
Two other injuries popped up Thursday: rookie running back Alex Green (quad) and nose tackle B.J. Raji (ankle). Both dropped out of practice.
On the plus side of the injury ledger, kicker Mason Crosby (ankle) got back to work, hitting a few kickoffs and making two field goals, from 36 and 42 yards. Linebacker Cardia Jackson also returned to practice.
McCarthy didn’t rule any of the injured players out for Saturday, but he stressed the team will be cautious. The ongoing injured list includes veterans such as tight end Jermichael Finley (glute) and receiver Brett Swain (hamstring).
Finley, of course, hasn’t played since Week 5 of last season when he sustained a season-ending knee injury.
“I’d like to see Jermichael play Saturday, but that’s a medical decision,” McCarthy said. “We could say that about a couple of individuals. We’ll obviously caution against playing guys before they’re ready. We always have, and probably even more so this year.”
When the Packers return from Cleveland, they’ll begin a new training camp schedule that has moved the remaining three night practices to mid-day. Thursday became the last night practice of this camp, the 11th in all, including “Family Night.”
McCarthy said he wanted to get the players adjusted to more of an in-season schedule sooner in camp this year, because the regular-season opener is on a Thursday rather than a Sunday. The players aren’t complaining, and some see other motivations for the change as well.
“I think we need some work in the sun,” defensive end Ryan Pickett said. “I think that’s part of the reason Coach McCarthy is doing it. We go to Carolina the second game of the year. It might be 110 degrees there. We have no idea.”
Other observations from Thursday:
The first lineman to replace Chad Clifton at left tackle was T.J. Lang rather than Marshall Newhouse. Lang also rotated in with the first team at left guard and got more snaps with the 1’s than probably in any other practice in camp. Newhouse, who had been playing mostly left tackle and doing well, got more work at right tackle.
The depth charts on the special teams units definitely changed overnight. On Wednesday, the No. 1 kickoff-return team had four draft picks on it but, on Thursday, only one remained – return man Randall Cobb, who took the first reps with Green sidelined. Only two players from the first kick-return team remained from the previous night, offensive lineman Nick McDonald and fullback John Kuhn.
Most of the team, including McCarthy, has never been inside the White House, but some of the receivers will be going to the White House on Friday for the second time in less than a year. Last October, when the Packers traveled to play the Redskins, Swain used a family connection to the Secret Service to set up a visit with President Barack Obama, and some of Swain’s position mates joined him. They plan to test the President’s memory. “I’m just interested if he’ll know my name or not,” Jordy Nelson said.
Visit Packers.com on Friday for all the coverage of the White House visit.