GREEN BAY — Every summer, the Packers rotate as many players as they possibly can during training camp in order to prepare everyone for any possible scenario.
It doesn’t matter if it’s Aaron Rodgers or the most unheralded undrafted rookie on the depth chart, it’s imperative each player understands what’s expected of him if called upon.
The Packers’ defense could be counting on that experience this Thursday against the Chicago Bears with the secondary in danger of being without its top three cornerbacks.
Two of them – Sam Shields (concussion/injured reserve) and Quinten Rollins (groin) – already have been ruled out with Damarious Randall’s status also in the air after aggravating a lingering groin injury last Sunday against Dallas.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers understands how teams must account for injuries throughout the course of the season. That’s what Green Bay did in 2010 en route to winning its fourth Super Bowl in franchise history.
Still, the state of the secondary has tested the defense.
“We’ve had years where we’ve had a number of injuries. … I don’t know that they’ve all been at one position,” Capers said. “That’s the challenge we have. The guys we have there are going to really have to step their game up and play well for us.”
Shields, the longest-tenured cornerback on the roster, hasn’t played since sustaining a concussion in the fourth quarter of the regular-season opener against Jacksonville.
The Packers still have the option available to return a player to the active roster from injured reserve after he’s been on the list for eight weeks.
Depending on how his situation unfolds, Shields would be eligible to practice again after the Packers’ Week 12 game against Philadelphia and activated for their Week 15 game in Chicago.
Shields’ absence has been felt throughout the defense, but his teammates understand the seriousness of his injury and how important it is for him to take a cautious approach to recovery.
The most important factor is his long-term health.
“A concussion is totally different,” cornerback Demetri Goodson said. “You can break your arm or sprain your ankle, but that’s your life. It’s fun playing this game we play, but at the same time, you don’t want to risk your life. For Sam’s sake, I hope the best for him and I hope he can come back.”
The Packers had been getting by with their three second-year cornerbacks – Randall, Rollins and LaDarius Gunter – through the first month of the season before Randall suffered a groin strain two weeks ago and sat out against the Giants.
After losing Rollins to a groin injury he suffered during last Saturday’s practice, Randall attempted to play through his injury Sunday against the Cowboys, but aggravated it in the second quarter and didn’t return.
The domino effect of those injuries pushed Gunter to left cornerback, and he endured some rough moments after a strong outing the previous week against the Giants. It also forced Goodson to play 36 snaps in his first regular-season action after serving a four-game suspension.
“It’s been tough, but I think we’re kind of used to that from the very first game of the season,” Goodson said. “Me coming back off that four-game suspension and then playing all the snaps that I had to play was tough, definitely tough, but I was ready for it. I watched a lot of film.”
Goodson, who has played in 21 career regular-season games, has yet to record an official start, though he played a significant amount of defensive snaps last year in Carolina.
That could change Thursday against the Bears if Randall isn’t cleared. Regardless of who’s available, Capers is confident in the options the Packers have in their secondary.
Gunter, Goodson and undrafted rookie Josh Hawkins have all played the perimeter cornerback positions this year, with Micah Hyde mostly handling the nickel duties since Week 3.
Safety Morgan Burnett also has played some slot cornerback in the dime sub-package with another undrafted rookie, Kentrell Brice, filling his void on the back end.
“We have a different group than we started the season with and that’s the way it’s going to be,” Capers said. “That’s the challenge. How are we going to respond to it? We have a big challenge here in a couple days. Quick turnaround, we don’t have time to certainly feel sorry for ourselves. We have to get up, go and go play quality football Thursday night.”
Capers admits the cornerback situation is “a work in progress” at the moment, but he expects his young cornerbacks to respond.
As the Packers’ defensive coordinator works on the game plan during a short week, the rest of the secondary is pulling together in the face of the injuries its facing.
“It’s tough but at the same time I think the coaches do a great job of getting us ready,” Hyde said. “We go through situations like this in training camp all the time where they’ll have guys out and other guys have to step in and make plays, that next-man-in mentality.
“I think the coaches do a good job with allowing us to get out there and get reps with different guys in case something like this happens.”
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