GREEN BAY, Wis. — After seven weeks without future Hall of Fame defensive back Charles Woodson and six weeks without Pro Bowl outside linebacker Clay Matthews, Packers coach Mike McCarthy still isn’t sure about the status of his two star defensive players.
“I’m hopeful,” McCarthy said Monday. “I’m hopeful they practice, hopeful they play. I don’t have any new information.”
Somewhat surprisingly, the Packers have done well in the absence of Woodson and Matthews. Green Bay has won seven of its last eight games, turning a dismal 2-3 start into a 9-4 record with a chance to clinch the NFC North.
“Sometimes things happen in cycles,” McCarthy said. “I’m here to tell you our cycle is ended. That’s the tough part of our game. It’s hard to see players go through it.”
The Packers are also waiting for word on the recovery status of wide receiver Jordy Nelson (hamstring), offensive lineman T.J. Lang (ankle) and defensive lineman C.J. Wilson.
“Talked to Jordy last night and he said he’s getting better,” McCarthy said. “T.J., we’ll see what he does in practice. We’ll see. Not as far along as C.J. would hope.”
Sam Shields steps up in his return: Shields didn’t start in Sunday’s win over the Detroit Lions, but after an ankle injury sidelined him for six games, the 25-year-old cornerback picked up a key interception in his first game action since Oct. 14.
“I was happy to have Sam back and I thought he went in and made a significant contribution,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “The interception obviously stands out. It was a very nice play. It’s nice to have him back out there.”
Shields was Green Bay’s starting cornerback in Weeks 2 through 6 and had played well prior to his injury. But while he was out, Davon House and Casey Hayward both had several solid performances and seemed to threaten the possibility of Shields getting his starting role back.
But House struggled early against the Lions, prompting Capers’ decision to insert Shields into that spot. However, Capers wouldn’t commit to whether House, Shields or Hayward would start Sunday at Chicago.
“I really don’t look at starting spots,” Capers said.
DuJuan Harris proves valuable: When the Packers began this season, Harris had just been released by the Jacksonville Jaguars and Pittsburgh Steelers. So when the 24-year-old speedy running back was given the ball on Green Bay’s first offensive play against Detroit, not even Harris expected it.
“Get the butterflies out of the way right away,” offensive coordinator Tom Clements said of the decision to run a play for Harris immediately. “Get him in there and he responded well. He got outside, hit it downhill and got a first down, and that got us going.”
Harris, listed at 5-foot-8, was added to the Packers practice squad on Oct. 24. Five weeks later, he was called up to the active roster.
“When teammates high-five you and get excited about the things you do at practice, that’s usually a pretty good sign this is a young man who needs an opportunity,” McCarthy said.
Harris finished with 31 rushing yards on seven carries and will likely be Green Bay’s second running back — behind Alex Green, but ahead of Ryan Grant — throughout the rest of the season.
“I like a lot about DaJuan Harris,” McCarthy said. “I’d like to get him in game more (and) I’d like to do more with him. He’s a tough kid, and talented. He’s as fast vertically as he is horizontally. He’s a tough football player.”