GREEN BAY – How deep the Packers will have to dig into their depth chart for Sunday’s NFC title game in Atlanta isn’t fully known yet.
But there will be no avoiding it in some respect, which has been the case all season long. Green Bay’s youth very well could take on an even more prominent role than it has, but at least any young players called upon won’t be strangers to the moment.
“Some of our young players played early and they played early and often,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said on Wednesday. “We’re going to need everybody this week.
“We’re working through a number of guys. Hopefully some of these guys can get on the field Saturday so we’ll see how that goes. But this is the NFL. Young players play in the most important games and our team definitely reflects that.”
On defense, rookie safety Kentrell Brice said he’s “counting on” veteran Morgan Burnett (quad) being able to play, while cornerback Quinten Rollins is still working toward concussion protocol clearance.
On offense, McCarthy said receiver Davante Adams (ankle) might be able to practice on Saturday, the status of Jordy Nelson (ribs) remains up in the air, and now rookie Geronimo Allison (hamstring) was held out of Wednesday’s practice.
In all cases, there are no guarantees, so the young players will be drawing on their dashes of experience throughout the season to be ready.
“Those guys had to learn on the fly,” veteran Julius Peppers said. “A lot of them got thrown in the fire probably a little bit earlier than we would’ve liked, but I thought they did a great job of handling it.”
Brice is one who has played more than almost any undrafted rookie could expect. A regular on special teams and in the dime defense most of the season, Brice became an every-down safety when Burnett left last Sunday’s game in Dallas in the first half.
Fellow undrafted rookie Josh Hawkins also had to step in at cornerback and got his most extensive playing time since early in the year.
Neither shied away from the moment, especially Brice, who nearly came up with a leaping interception in the end zone on a deep ball from Cowboys QB Dak Prescott.
“I felt I should have had it,” Brice said. “Nine times out of 10, it’s a play I should make. I just let it get away from me. I’ve been working in practice, focusing on squeezing the ball, hands on it. Next time I get the opportunity, I’ll make the play.”
His fiery intensity was on display nonetheless, particularly on a hard-hitting but clean tackle of Dallas receiver Cole Beasley. Brice’s emotions are a reflection of his love of the game and the determination he needed to get where he is, coming from Ruston High School in Louisiana and then Louisiana Tech.
“It’s things that I have inside me from how I grew up. It’s everything from going undrafted, all of it is combined into one,” he said. “I just go out and play my game and let my passion play through me on the field.”
Allison is another undrafted rookie who gets pretty fired up on the field, and he’s caught 12 passes for 211 yards and a TD over his last four games (including two playoffs).
He said he sat out practice as a precaution, which left fellow rookie Trevor Davis and Jeff Janis as the only available receivers on the 53-man roster behind Randall Cobb.
Janis, of course, has been thrown into the playoff fire before, catching two TD passes including a Hail Mary in the divisional game at Arizona last year. He also had a touchdown in this year’s regular-season meeting in Atlanta, where Davis and Allison also got their first NFL TDs.
The Packers were down a number of offensive playmakers in that game (Cobb, Ty Montgomery, Jared Cook) but did enough to score 32 points.
“It shows that we can spread the ball out a little bit, and we’re not scared to do that,” said Janis, who is also on the injury report (quad) but is practicing. “It shows everybody in our room is ready to go.”
They may have to be again.
“You prepare for anything, really, any role,” Allison said. “You just prepare for all positions, to be interchangeable and be anywhere at any time.”