Injuries cause concern for Packers’ pass defense

The Green Bay Packers are saving the most creative chapters of
their defensive playbook for the regular season. And at least some
of their key injured players should be healthy in time for the
Sept. 12 opener at Philadelphia.

So maybe it’s not a big deal that their defense is giving up big
plays in the preseason, continuing a disturbing trend from the end
of last season.

Charles Woodson isn’t interested in excuses.

”I think we’re as good as what we’ve shown, and I don’t think
it’s all that great,” Woodson said. ”There’s improvements for us
to make. Hopefully, by the time the first game gets here, we’ll
have some things ironed out and know who’s going to be in there and
those sort of things and just take off running.”

Still, going into Thursday night’s final preseason game at
Kansas City, Packers coach Mike McCarthy says he wants to see more
from several young players who could be forced into important roles
if the team’s injury situation doesn’t clear up soon.

”Thursday night is a big night for a number of players,”
McCarthy said. ”It is our responsibility as coaches to make sure
we give them the opportunities to show what they can do.”

For all their offensive brilliance in last Thursday’s 59-24
preseason rout of the Indianapolis Colts, the first-team defense
had issues. They gave up two touchdowns and a field goal in a
little more than a quarter and several big plays, including a
49-yard run on the Colts’ first play from scrimmage and three pass
plays of 24 yards or more.

The Cleveland Browns and Seattle Seahawks – two teams not
expected to rank among the league’s most dynamic offenses this
season – also moved the ball effectively in the Packers’ first two
preseason games.

”You can be better, you can be worse. It’s up to us,” said
defensive end Cullen Jenkins, who is sitting out with a calf injury
but expects to be ready for the regular season. ”We decide how it
is. And we definitely have the ability to be better, it’s just up
to us to go out there, prepare for it and then go out and do
it.”

For now, Green Bay’s offense seems more than capable of winning
its share of shootout games, but Woodson doesn’t want the season to
play out that way.

”I love to play on a team with a high-powered offense, but at
some point during the season, they’re going to need us to step up
and play good football, get off the field, make plays or
whatever,” Woodson said. ”I don’t like going in with the mindset
that we have to depend on the offense. We’ve got a lot of
corrections we have to make. A lot of guys are going to have to
step up and play this year.”

And a lot of those guys are young.

Safety Atari Bigby had ankle surgery at the beginning of
training camp and may begin the season on the physically unable to
perform list, meaning he would miss the first six games. In his
place is Morgan Burnett, a third-round rookie.

Cornerback Al Harris is recovering from last year’s
season-ending knee injury, and it’s not clear if he’ll be ready for
the regular season, either.

The Packers still have Woodson and Tramon Williams, but are
trying to find a nickel cornerback they can count on. Pat Lee and
Brandon Underwood – who is nursing a shoulder injury – haven’t done
enough to win the job, so coaches now are giving undrafted free
agent Sam Shields a chance.

”Once he really learns his game, I think he’s going to be a
pretty good corner,” Woodson said. ”Between now and then, he
(doesn’t) have much time but he’ll be ready.”

The Packers also were hoping for a healthy Will Blackmon to
provide depth at safety and nickel cornerback. But Blackmon’s
surgically repaired left knee continues to cause trouble.

”Will’s just going through a tough spot right now,” McCarthy
said. ”He’s coming off that knee surgery, and especially at his
position, it’s been tough. Will has put a lot of time into this. He
had a very strong offseason, but it’s probably not responding the
way he would like right now.”

At outside linebacker, the Packers are getting by for now
without Clay Matthews (hamstring) and Brad Jones (shoulder). For
now, veteran Brady Poppinga and undrafted free agent Frank Zombo
are taking most of the repetitions with the first-team defense.

No matter who’s playing outside linebacker for the Packers,
they’ll have to provide a better pass rush – or the Packers will be
leaning heavily on their high-powered offense.

”We don’t want to go into this season thinking we have an
offense that can put up points so we can just go out there and
whatever happens, happens,” Woodson said. ”That’s not taking any
pride in what you do as a professional. We won’t go out there like
that.”