Banged-up Packers hope to get gang back for season
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP)
Five series, three exhibition games, no touchdowns.
Not to worry, Green Bay fans - looks like the gang's getting back together, just in time for the regular season.
Receivers Jordy Nelson (knee) and Randall Cobb (biceps) were back at practice this week, two key options in the Packers' attack. James Jones forms the third member of Rodgers' trifecta of receiving threats, while tight end Jermichael Finley has arguably had the best preseason of his career.
Sure, the first-string offense didn't get into the end zone under Rodgers' guidance, though he is quick to note that one supposed touchdown was called back after a replay review. The 2011 NFL Most Valuable Player doesn't seem too worried.
''It's preseason. We had five good drives. No three-and-outs, one sack, we lost the ball on downs, missed a field goal and had three field goals,'' Rodgers said. ''So we had productive drives. The biggest issue is we didn't have our whole team together.''
Green Bay's last preseason game is Thursday night at Kansas City. The season opener is Sept. 8 at the 49ers, setting up a rematch of the divisional round game last year in which Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers manhandled the Packers defense.
Five to know about the Packers heading into the regular season:
MEDICAL UNIT: Besides Cobb and Nelson, cornerback Tramon Williams (knee) also returned to practice this week in limited action. But Green Bay has been black and blue all training camp. Starting running back DuJuan Harris is out for the year with a knee injury. Two more starters, safety Morgan Burnett and linebacker Brad Jones, injured hamstrings in a 17-10 preseason loss to Seattle. McCarthy has placed an emphasis in the preseason on evaluating lesser-known talent, so the first-string units haven't played much in preseason games.
''I still don't want to go out and say that I will be there Week 1,'' Williams said, ''but for me to be out here now, I think it's definitely a possibility.''
LINE UP: The biggest loss of the preseason came at the position the Packers perhaps could least afford to take a hit. Left tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee) is out for the season, leaving rookie David Bakhtiari with the task of protecting Rodgers' blind side. He'll have the added benefit at least of having All-Pro Josh Sitton playing alongside of him at guard. Right tackle remains a question mark, too, whether coach Mike McCarthy settles on Don Barclay or Marshall Newhouse. Center Evan Dietrich-Smith and right guard T.J. Lang are the other starters. They'll need to cut down on the 51 sacks allowed of Rodgers last season. The front five will also be charged with opening up holes in a running game that Green Bay hopes will be rejuvenated with the addition of rookie Eddie Lacy, who ran for more than 1,300 yards and 17 touchdowns on 204 carries last year for top-ranked Alabama.
FIRST-TIMERS: From Bakhtiari to Lacy, rookies should have important roles on both sides of the ball. Bakhtiari may have the more important job in the trenches, but whether he starts or not, Lacy will be counted on to help diversify the offense. He might handle more of the carries now with Harris out. It's a time-tested formula - get opponents to commit more defenders in the box to stop the run, hoping it opens up more one-on-one opportunities for the receivers. First-round draft pick Datone Jones, a defensive end, had been slowed earlier in camp by an ankle injury, but figures to play a pivotal part in the rotation. Defensive back Micah Hyde has impressed at times, taking advantage of opportunities left by injuries to Williams and fellow cornerback Casey Hayward.
FRONTED: The defense showed push - and a little spunk - against Seattle, getting to quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Brady Quinn four times. Not surprising given Green Bay was fourth in the league last year with 47 sacks. Add Datone Jones to the mix up front now. Johnny Jolly likely has done enough to make the team after missing the past three NFL seasons while suspended for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. Apparently, Rodgers isn't the only Packer playing with a proverbial ''chip on the shoulder.''
Said defensive lineman Mike Daniels: ''You can see it from top to bottom, offense and defense. We'd rather dish it out.''
JUST FOR KICKS: By now, Mason Crosby should be getting the message. After a miserable season last year hitting only 21 of 33 attempts (64 percent), the seven-year NFL veteran got company in camp and managed to outlast Giorgio Tavecchio and rookie Zach Ramirez.
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