Banged-up Packers hope to get gang back for season

Five series, three exhibition games, no touchdowns.

At first glance, the preseason numbers don’t really add up for

Aaron Rodgers, even with the injuries that have hampered the

Packers.

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.

Online:

AP NFL site: http://www.pro32.ap.org

Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP