They’re being careful not to disrespect their friend and teammate, but there isn’t one member of the Packers receiving corps that believes Green Bay’s offense will suffer without Greg Jennings.
That may seem naïve to some, because no team loses a Pro Bowl-caliber player around whom opposing defenses game-plan without changing at least a little.
But Jennings’ receiving mates aren’t about to concede anything over these next three games, even as they look forward to getting No. 85 back from his knee injury for the playoffs.
“What changes? Nothing really changes,” James Jones said. “We’re still going to run our offense. Greg is a big loss, no doubt about it, but we just have to keep moving and make plays when they’re there.
“You don’t have to be somebody different. I don’t have to be James Jones plus somebody. You just have to make the plays when they’re there and continue to try to help this offense.”
Jones is one guy who has done that all along when opportunities for almost everyone except Jennings and Jordy Nelson have come in fits and starts.
Five times this season Jones has caught just one pass in a game, but twice that lone catch has been for a score. Twice he has gained more than 90 yards receiving in a game, and he has scored in each of those games, as well.
Jones isn’t the only example of coming through when called upon. After catching four passes in the season opener, veteran Donald Driver caught four passes just once over the next 10 games. In each of the last two contests, he has four receptions, including two touchdowns.
Tight end Jermichael Finley caught six passes two weeks ago against the Giants but then was shut out last week. He’ll be as ready as anyone for more attention, both from his quarterback and opposing defenses.
“I don’t think we have a challenge,” Driver said of replacing Jennings. “We’ve all played well this season and we’re going to continue to play well.”
In other words, anyone who catches passes on this team is capable of being the go-to guy if called upon. They all know all the positions and act as interchangeable parts within the scheme.
Knowing they’re getting Jennings back for the postseason helps lessen the blow for now, but it seems this group’s approach wouldn’t be any different either way.
“The sad part is we’re going to miss one of our good guys,” Driver said. “He’s a great guy, a great player, but we all know exactly what the task at hand is, and the task is to continue to win games regardless of who’s playing and who’s not playing.”
Head Coach Mike McCarthy said he doesn’t expect Jennings’ absence to affect the way Aaron Rodgers runs the offense, which by extension means it’s not affecting the way the coaching staff is game-planning on offense.
Nelson, who becomes the team’s No. 1 receiver statistically, is likely to see the kinds of double-coverage defenses have thrown at Jennings, but Nelson insists that won’t affect how he prepares to play from here on out.
“If it did, then I’d have a problem with the way I prepared before,” Nelson said.
If there’s one element of intrigue surrounding Jennings’ absence it’s rookie Randall Cobb. Part of the receiving rotation on offense throughout the year, Cobb has shown considerable explosiveness, averaging 15.8 yards on his 19 catches.
An increased role for a few weeks could make Cobb even more prepared to produce in the playoffs. His lone pro TD came in the opener when he ran the wrong route, but he said he’s come a long way since then.
“I don’t think I’ve had a missed assignment in probably the last eight weeks,” Cobb said. “I think those have diminished. As far as being a rookie, if I still have a college mindset, we’ve already played my freshman year, so this is the start of the second year for me.”
For the rest, it’s a second straight year of overcoming injuries to important players, and past results lend credence to their future predictions.
“We’ll miss Greg. Greg’s a great player,” Rodgers said. “But if this team last year taught us anything, it’s that the next man up has to step in and produce.”
Injury update: Right guard Josh Sitton, who has missed the last two games with a knee injury, returned to practice on a limited basis on Wednesday and said he’s happy with the progress he’s making.
McCarthy said Sitton’s status for this week is still up in the air, and he would have to see if Sitton can do more in practice on Thursday.
Running back James Starks (ankle/knee) sat out practice again after a hard individual workout on Tuesday. McCarthy said Starks would be re-evaluated again on Friday, suggesting he won’t practice on Thursday, either.
Defensive lineman Ryan Pickett and running back Brandon Saine both missed practice as they go through the concussion protocol. McCarthy said he hoped Pickett would be ready for Sunday’s game.
Linebackers A.J. Hawk (calf) and Vic So’oto (back) both returned to practice as full participants, but Desmond Bishop (calf) remained sidelined. Additional coverage - Dec. 14