The Packers could be a little thin at running back on Sunday in Kansas City, and they won’t know exactly how many healthy ball-carriers they’ll have until shortly before kickoff.
James Starks (knee/ankle) and Brandon Saine (concussion) are both listed as questionable on the injury report, and Head Coach Mike McCarthy said both would be worked out early Sunday morning at Arrowhead Stadium to determine whether they can play.
Starks returned to practice on Friday on a limited basis for the first time in two weeks, doing individual drills only. He sat out last week’s game after aggravating his lower leg injuries for a third straight contest back on Dec. 4 against the Giants.
Meanwhile, Saine sat out all week following his concussion in last Sunday’s game against Oakland.
“I’m hopeful at least one of those two guys can go,” McCarthy said.
If not, the Packers will be down to two healthy ball-carriers in Ryan Grant and John Kuhn. That pair handled the bulk of the load last week after Saine left the game early. Grant and Kuhn combined for 20 carries and 131 rushing yards against the Raiders.
“We prepare the same way,” said Grant, who broke off a 47-yard touchdown run on his first carry last week and went on to post his second-highest yardage total of the season, with 85. “We will just make sure we’re ready for whatever case, personnel-wise.”
Grant has spoken often about taking advantage of additional carries to get into a rhythm, particularly with the postseason approaching. McCarthy said he backed off Grant last week when the offense was down to just the two rushers, so it’s difficult to say how much work Grant will actually get on Sunday.
Normally a fullback, Kuhn has provided the offense with the ultimate utility player in recent years, filling in at halfback in a pinch. He doesn’t possess the breakaway ability Grant does, but he still compiled 46 yards on 10 carries last week, a solid 4.6 yards per rush.
“The goal is to make the play a winning play,” Kuhn said. “Sometimes you just need three or four yards to make it a winning play, but we’re looking to stay explosive. We don’t feel like anybody that we put in there this game is going to change the fact that our offense is still going to be explosive.”
There’s always a chance that either Starks or Saine could be cleared and active on gameday but only as an emergency substitute. That’s essentially what happened last week with inside linebacker A.J. Hawk, who was active but ended up not playing in the blowout victory.
Hawk will be back at his usual starting spot on Sunday, but fellow inside linebacker Desmond Bishop (calf) has been ruled out for the third straight game. Rookie D.J. Smith has played Bishop’s spot in his absence, with Robert Francois also available.
Like Hawk and Bishop, right guard Josh Sitton (knee) hasn’t played since Thanksgiving in Detroit, and he is now questionable for this week. Sitton was a limited participant in practice all three days this week, and McCarthy said how he feels on Saturday morning will likely determine his playing status.
“I’m ready to play,” Sitton said. “It’s out of my hands now. It’s up to them.
“I felt great all week. I practiced all week, did a lot of things. I feel good.”
If Sitton returns, the Packers’ offensive line would be back to the starting five that began six straight games beginning in Week 6. Due to injuries to left tackle Chad Clifton, who is still out, and right tackle Bryan Bulaga earlier in the season, the group featuring (left to right) Marshall Newhouse, T.J. Lang, Scott Wells, Sitton and Bulaga has started the most games for Green Bay this year.
On the defensive line, Ryan Pickett (concussion) has been ruled out and won’t make the trip to Kansas City, McCarthy said. His absence likely will mean more early-down, or running-down, snaps for Howard Green in both the base (three down linemen) and nickel (two down linemen) packages.
“I’ve been getting more snaps as the year has been going on,” Green said. “More snaps for me is good. I don’t mind. We have C.J. Wilson, Jarius Wynn and Mike Neal, so everybody will take on that load and spread it out equally.” Additional coverage - Dec. 16