Banged-up Packers take advantage of early bye week
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- An unusually early bye week did the Green Bay Packers some good.
The team returned to work Monday and practiced for about 90 minutes at nearly full strength as a few key defensive players returned from injury.
"The bye couldn't have come at a (more) perfect time," veteran safety Morgan Burnett said. "Now we're getting guys back, getting guys healthy, and that's what you really want going down the stretch."
Burnett joined star linebacker Clay Matthews, nose tackle Letroy Guion and defensive end/linebacker Datone Jones in practice after they were sidelined for Green Bay's pre-bye win over the Detroit Lions on Sept. 25.
The improved health of the team after a week off comes as the Packers (2-1) get ready to host the New York Giants on Sunday night.
"We need everybody out there," defensive back Micah Hyde said. "It's going to be a competitive game."
Coach Mike McCarthy said earlier Monday that he would have to wait to see how the injured players who returned to the field fared in practice before assessing just how healthy the Packers will be for their next game.
Veteran cornerback Sam Shields still hasn't been cleared to resume football activities after missing the past two games because of a concussion.
"He's improving," McCarthy said. "I know the break was good for him. He was able to go home."
But McCarthy indicated the team is being very cautious with Shields, who has a history of head injuries. A concussion kept him from playing four games toward the end of last season.
"No stone has been left unturned," McCarthy said. "I think we have a very good handle on why and how and really the process for him to come back."
The Packers' pass defense has struggled without Shields, giving up numerous big plays and allowing an average of 307.3 yards through the air to rank 29th.
"Obviously, if it was that easy, anybody would be doing it," cornerback Damarious Randall said.
The second-year cornerback was picked on by quarterbacks Sam Bradford of Minnesota and Matthew Stafford of Detroit the past two games, during which the Vikings' Stefon Diggs had nine catches for 182 yards and the Lions' Marvin Jones Jr. had six receptions for 205 yards and two touchdowns.
"I know we've been struggling -- me, in particular, has been struggling," Randall said. "The great thing about that, I'm not struggling because of the (opposing) receivers. I'm struggling because of myself. I know I'm going to bounce back.
"That's really the best part about the bye week, to know that it's me. If it was the other way around, then I'd be in trouble."
McCarthy and his staff devoted the team's meetings and practice time Monday to self-improvement with a focus on cleaning up the fundamentals.
The preparations for the upcoming game will start after the Packers get a chance to watch the Giants play the NFC North-leading Minnesota Vikings on Monday night.
And Green Bay's players are unfazed that having the bye after only three games means the team will have to finish the season with a long, uninterrupted stretch of 13 games and possibly more once the postseason comes.
"Near the end of the bye week, I was kind of bored. I was like, `I kind of want to be back already,'" said rookie linebacker Blake Martinez, a Stanford product who spent part of the week in California.
NOTES: FB Aaron Ripkowski also practiced Monday. He suffered a back injury in the previous game. TE Jared Cook, who left that game with an ankle injury, remains out. WR Jeff Janis practiced without the club-like cast he wore on his surgically repaired right hand the first three games. ... The Packers signed FB Joe Kerridge to the practice squad. Kerridge, an undrafted rookie from Michigan, previously was on the Washington Redskins' practice squad.