GREEN BAY – Last year it was around this time, heading into a Thursday night home game against the Bears, when the Packers’ injury situation at running back reached a desperation point.
Unfortunately this year, the Packers appear on the verge of a repeat – at offensive tackle.
Already dealing with injuries to starting left tackle David Bakhtiari (hamstring), right tackle Bryan Bulaga (ankle) and reserve Jason Spriggs (hamstring, injured reserve), the Packers added second-year backup Kyle Murphy (foot) to the injury list on Monday.
“To have one position that gets hit by it, maybe it has something to do with playing Chicago on Thursday night,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said on Monday, trying to make light of a situation that is anything but for the Packers’ offense.
How things shake out on this short week remains to be seen. Already, the Packers have moved interior lineman Justin McCray out to tackle the past two games to fill in for Bulaga, who played for the first time this season on Sunday but then exited again in the second half.
Bakhtiari was listed as “limited” as a practice estimation on the week’s initial injury report, so perhaps that’s an indication he has a chance to play on Thursday after missing the last two games.
Undrafted rookie Adam Pankey, signed to the active roster from the practice squad for Week 2, could be another option. Or the Packers could move another interior player to the outside, like they did with guard Josh Sitton in Week 17 of the 2015 season. Or they could sign an emergency backup off the street or from another team’s practice squad.
Regardless, McCarthy will have to continue to make adjustments to the game plan and offensive scheme based on who’s available as bookends on the offensive line.
“We’ll continue down that path we’ve been on the last two games,” he said.
He added that he won’t know how close the seven inactive players from Sunday’s game are to returning to action until he sees them on the practice field Tuesday, when the Packers will start the cram sessions for the Bears, who are coming off an overtime victory of their own.
Even the special teams can’t escape the injury bug right now. Long snapper Brett Goode hurt his hamstring during Sunday’s game and was placed on injured reserve, replaced on the roster by rookie Taybor Pepper, who was with the Packers for a portion of the offseason.
McCarthy didn’t specify exactly when Goode got hurt but said he played a good portion of the game with the injury. Tight end Richard Rodgers was warming up on the sideline during the game as an emergency option.
“He toughed it out,” McCarthy said of Goode, who’s in his 10th season in Green Bay. “To play through the game the way he did was a real credit to him. I can’t say enough about him pushing through.”
That’s what the whole team is doing now to get ready for a division game on a short week.
Injuries have forced a lot of young players into the lineup, and some – like rookie safety Josh Jones – have thrived with the opportunity. McCarthy also lauded the play of veteran safety Morgan Burnett for being both a versatile and steady influence, on the field and in the locker room.
Amongst the youth on the roster, rookie cornerback Kevin King got his first NFL start on Sunday, defensive lineman Montravius Adams and outside linebacker Chris Odom made their pro debuts, and second-year defensive backs Marwin Evans and Josh Hawkins played more than usual.
On the offensive side, McCray and Murphy have proven to be valuable reserves, while receiver Geronimo Allison’s impressive development continues.
While the Packers work through their extensive injury situation, the hope is the early experience the team’s youngest players are getting will pay dividends down the road. The more they play, the more they have a chance to close the gap with the veteran players who have been through it all before.
“The plan is to win the game, but we’re always very cognizant of getting these younger players in,” McCarthy said. “Because let’s face it, when we get to November and December, there’s a very high probability these guys are going to be playing major roles in these game plans in big games.”