Over the past two days, Green Bay acquired three linebackers, signing free agents Erik Walden and Matt Wilhelm and claiming Diyral Briggs off waivers from the Denver Broncos.
On Tuesday, the Packers placed outside linebacker Brady Poppinga on season-ending injured reserve with a knee injury, and followed that up on Wednesday with another, starting right outside linebacker Brad Jones, seeing his season come to an end with a shoulder injury sustained on Sunday against Minnesota.
Poppinga and Jones also were contributors on special teams, and with rookie Frank Zombo likely moving up to a starting role on the right side with Jones done for the year, the need to add some depth for both defense and special teams became imperative.
“I’m excited about having the three linebackers,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “Particularly, and what I told them in the team meeting today, they are going to have an opportunity to make an impact on our special teams. I think our special teams improved. I thought they were productive against Minnesota and we have had a lot of change, but I think there is definitely more to get out of our special-teams units.
“They will be given that opportunity first, and frankly just having fresh bodies out there, and we’ll get them acclimated to our system as fast as we can. It’s good to have all three of those guys.”
Wilhelm, who will work on the inside, brings the most experience of the newly signed linebackers, having played in 82 career games with 22 starts during his seven-year career. He played six seasons (2003-08) with San Diego, highlighted by a 2007 season that saw him post career-highs in starts (14) and tackles (144), before signing with San Francisco as a free agent in 2009.
Wilhelm played in 11 games with one start last season for the 49ers, seeing most of his action on special teams where he registered 12 tackles. He sustained a torn MCL in his knee in the 49ers’ preseason finale, and was placed on injured reserve before reaching an injury settlement with the team. Wilhelm said he was eligible to re-sign with the 49ers around Week 12 and was working out at Stanford in hopes of re-joining the team, but was excited when the opportunity in Green Bay came his way.
Wilhelm has played almost exclusively in the 3-4 scheme during his career, and said while the defensive concepts in Green Bay are similar to his prior teams, getting the terminology down will be the biggest challenge.
“It will take some time,” Wilhelm said. “For me this has been a whirlwind 48 hours to fly here from the West Coast and to be in a helmet and have completed my first practice. So sitting in meetings, I try to grasp as much as I can with what I have been accustomed to, but it’s just going to be sitting down and opening the books and really studying hard."
Wilhelm said he expects to spend a lot of time going over the defensive system in more detail with inside linebackers coach Winston Moss during the Packers’ bye week, which comes after the Nov. 7 contest against Dallas, but the immediate focus for him is special teams.
“I definitely am hopeful to be active (on Sunday),” said Wilhelm, who has posted 53 tackles on special teams during his career. “I took some of the reps (Wednesday) with the first team in special teams, and hope that through my hard work throughout the week that I will be up and I will be active.
“I didn’t want to come here and just be part of the 53. I wanted to contribute to a winning football team.”
Wilhelm wasn’t the only one to have an interesting couple of days. Briggs was elevated from Denver’s practice squad to the active roster in time for this past Sunday’s game vs. Oakland, but then was released by the team on Monday.
Briggs said he was expecting to return to Denver’s practice squad on Tuesday after clearing waivers, but instead received the good news from his agent that he had been claimed by the Packers.
Briggs entered the NFL with San Francisco in 2009 as a non-drafted free agent and played in four games for the 49ers last season and one this year. He recorded four special-teams stops in the four games played in 2009. A defensive end in college at Bowling Green, he has made the transition to outside linebacker in the pros, and will continue to play there in Green Bay.
Walden, who has played in 28 career games with Kansas City and Miami over the past three seasons, also will work at outside linebacker.
“Coming to any team, (special teams) is the first place you need to start and really stand out,” Briggs said. “I think it’s important. I think a lot of players think it isn’t important, but it is.
“(Getting playing time on defense) is really up to them, what I perform and what I put out there. I’m going to come out here and give it my all.”
What will be asked of the three newcomers in the immediate future remains to be seen, but they will all likely be called upon at some point, with some other players at the position taking on increased responsibilities.
“Obviously we’re going to have Frank step up, (Robert) Francois step up, and bringing in some new guys to give us some additions,” linebacker Clay Matthews said. “We feel good about the players we have. Obviously Frank has had starting experience before, so we feel confident in his ability and our team’s ability. Like we have done all year, we’ll continue to march on.”
With the uncertain status of defensive ends Cullen Jenkins and Ryan Pickett for this Sunday’s game due to injuries, Green Bay added some depth to its line by claiming veteran nose tackle Howard Green off waivers from the Jets on Wednesday afternoon.
The 6-foot-2, 340-pound Green not only brings some knowledge of Green Bay’s opponent this week, having played in two games with the Jets this year and 12 last year, but he also has some familiarity with coaches on the Packers’ staff.
Green entered the NFL as a sixth-round draft choice of the Texans in 2002 when defensive coordinator Dom Capers was Houston’s head coach, and he was also with Miami during the 2006 preseason when Capers ran the defense there. Green played in 18 games with New Orleans from 2003-04, posting career highs in games played (14) and started (12) in ’04, when McCarthy was the Saints’ offensive coordinator.
Backing his guy
When Packers cornerback Charles Woodson won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award from The Associated Press last season, Jets head coach Rex Ryan did not shy away from saying that his standout cornerback, Darrelle Revis, was more deserving of the honor.
On a conference call with Wisconsin media on Wednesday morning, Ryan did not back down from those feelings.
“I know (Charles) is a great player,” Ryan said. “My brother (Rob) coached Charles when he was at the Raiders and absolutely loved him. He is a great player, and I don’t say he’s not a great player. But the year that Darrelle Revis had has never been done in the history of the league, and I think that was a once-in-a-lifetime year for any corner.
“I thought the young man deserved the award. Charles had an unbelievable year. You look at him statistically, it was a phenomenal year. It absolutely was. But I know one thing, as much as I respect Charles Woodson, I just thought the year that Darrelle Revis had, I had never seen anything like it. I’ve only been around football all my life, and I have never seen anybody have that kind of year."
Woodson earned 28 of 50 first-place votes for the top defensive honor, with Revis checking in second with 14 votes. Woodson led the NFL with a career-high nine interceptions last season, earning NFC Defensive Player of the Month honors three times. Revis posted six interceptions and 31 passes defensed, leading a Jets defense that finished No. 1 in the league in yards allowed.
Pickett (ankle) and wide receiver Donald Driver (quad) did not participate in practice on Wednesday.
Jenkins (calf), Woodson (toe), tackle Chad Clifton (knee), safety Nick Collins (knee) and tackle Mark Tauscher (shoulder) were all limited participants.
McCarthy said the Packers would give Pickett and Jenkins the week to get ready for Sunday’s game, and would have a better idea on their availability at the end of the week.
Pickett originally injured his ankle in Week 5 at Washington, and aggravated the injury early on in this past Sunday’s contest against Minnesota, playing a total of seven snaps against the Vikings. McCarthy said Pickett’s ankle is about the same as it was heading into the game, and that he “didn’t go backwards.”
For the Jets, Revis (hamstring) and center Nick Mangold (shoulder) were full participants in practice on Wednesday. Linebacker Calvin Pace (foot) was limited.
Additional coverage – Oct. 27