The Packers have lost starting inside linebacker D.J. Smith for the season to a knee injury, and Mike McCarthy wasn’t revealing on Monday who his replacement will be.
Brad Jones took over for Smith late in the second quarter on Sunday night in Houston and played the rest of the game, but Jones is just one of three candidates McCarthy mentioned. The others are Robert Francois, who started two games when fellow inside linebacker A.J. Hawk got hurt last year, and Jamari Lattimore.
“We’ll let you see that on Sunday,” McCarthy said of how the defense will line up without Smith. “We have some ideas.”
Jones and Lattimore are still relatively new to the inside linebacker position, both having played outside linebacker in Dom Capers’ defense until moving inside this past spring during offseason workouts. Jones was working both inside and outside during training camp.
McCarthy hinted that the coaching staff may look at the different players taking roles in various packages, but he didn’t get into specifics. Then again, the coaches could ultimately decide to go with one guy and adjust everything else accordingly.
“I think the roles for everybody need to be identified and detailed, because obviously Robert and Brad and Jamari, they all have a lot of special teams responsibility,” McCarthy said. “We have to make sure special teams and defense are on the same page in how we utilize our players.”
The Packers may have caught a break at outside linebacker, where Nick Perry also left Sunday night’s game with a knee injury but appears to have avoided anything season-ending. McCarthy gave no indication as to how much time Perry might be out (he was replaced Sunday by Erik Walden), but he was breathing a sigh of relief with regards to the team’s first-round draft pick.
“It’s better than we thought it would be,” McCarthy said of the injury, which occurred when Texans tight end Owen Daniels was blocking Perry on a running play. “I had a chance to see the play on the Jumbotron, and it was very awkward the way he fell. That’s usually not a good sign. I think we were very fortunate there.”
In all, the Packers sustained three knee injuries, including another season-ender to running back Brandon Saine, plus a shin injury to cornerback Sam Shields. McCarthy said he felt the grass surface at Reliant Stadium – which was losing chunks of turf as the game wore on – was different than anything his team had played on previously, and that it was “hard,” but he didn’t know whether or not the field was a factor in the injuries.
What he did know is that if Shields is sidelined at all, rookie Casey Hayward would be difficult to ignore for the starting job. Hayward’s two interceptions in Houston gave him three picks in the last two weeks.
“I just think he’s a heck of a football player, and for a rookie to come in here and play as many positions and to pick it up the way he has, he just needs to play,” McCarthy said. “I’m very happy with the progress he’s making.”
McCarthy also liked the progress he saw from running back Alex Green in his first start. Green, who has come back from a season-ending knee injury sustained as a rookie last year, is no longer on the “snap count” that accompanied his rehab throughout training camp, and McCarthy announced he’s sticking with him as the offense’s lead back.
“I see the games as we move forward reflecting the game we just played,” said McCarthy, who gave Green 22 carries before getting James Starks his first action of 2012 with five fourth-quarter rushes. “That will be our approach.
“I have no reason to think (Green) can’t carry a full load. He hasn’t had any flare-ups or really any setbacks. That’s a good sign.”
Aside from all the injury news, McCarthy credited his players for the pride and confidence they showed in their victory in Houston amidst a lot of questions about where the team was headed last week, and he senses his team should be even more confident now.
He took exception to things the team is “working on” being viewed as things being “wrong,” a distinction that matters to a coach always pushing for weekly improvement over the course of the long season.
“We’re 3-3, and I know exactly why we’re 3-3, but I know how to continue to improve,” McCarthy said. “Maybe that gets old, but that’s the way we operate.”
PUP update: With six weeks in the books, three Packers are eligible to come off the physically unable to perform list this week, but it doesn’t sound like all three will.
McCarthy said the final decisions will be made on Wednesday, but he feels outside linebacker Frank Zombo and tight end Andrew Quarless are ready to return to practice, while offensive tackle Derek Sherrod is behind the other two.
This week begins a three-week window in which players on PUP can begin to practice. Once they practice, that starts another three-week window in which they must be put on the active roster, placed on injured reserve or released. Additional coverage - Oct. 15