Packers GM Gutekunst turns to young players after injuries
GREEN BAY, Wis. — The Green Bay Packers may have shown a greater willingness this offseason to sign veteran free agents under first-year general manager Brian Gutekunst, but the team is standing pat for now after injuries to key contributors on defense.
One day after inside linebacker Jake Ryan (knee) and safety Kentrell Brice (ankle) each had to be carted off the practice field, Gutekunst said Tuesday he’s not going to seek outside help at either position.
With Ryan out, rookie third-round draft pick Oren Burks took snaps with the No. 1 defense at inside linebacker. And with Brice sidelined, Josh Jones, a second-round pick a year ago, got most of the reps at safety alongside Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Jermaine Whitehead also worked with the first unit at safety in Brice’s place.
“You know, you never like to see any of that, especially with those guys who have worked as hard as they have. But it’s football, it’s part of it and it’s our job to be prepared and keep moving forward,” Gutekunst said.
“I think the best practice is patience. We have some young players that show some promise out there, and we’d kind of like them to continue to grow into those kind of roles and see what we have,” he added.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said he could not give a timeline on Brice’s recovery. Ryan, who got hurt while making a tackle during a team period near the end of Monday’s in-pads practice, was ruled out for the season Wednesday with a torn ACL.
Brice, who took virtually every team snap with the No. 1 defense before his injury, injured his ankle when he was blindsided during a punt coverage drill. He was able to attend practice and was walking gingerly on the sideline.
Bruce missed much of last season with another ankle injury.
The starting safety spot opposite Clinton-Dix came open this offseason when longtime starter Morgan Burnett left as a free agent and joined the Pittsburgh Steelers. Jones, who played more than 700 defensive snaps last year as a rookie, now must put that experience to use.
“Next man up. That’s the mentality,” Jones said. “You hate to see one of your teammates go down, but the next guy should be prepared. That’s why you prepare. When it’s your time to be called upon, you’re ready.”
The Packers drafted the 6-foot-3, 233-pound Burks with the hope that his athleticism and speed — he spent the early part of his college career at Vanderbilt playing safety — would be an asset in coverage on passing downs in the team’s dime package. He was already working with the starters in that sub group, but on Tuesday, he was with the 1s in the base defense as well.
“You just never know when your opportunity is going to come,” Burks said. “I’m doing my best to get better every day. I know I’m going to make mistakes — I’m a rookie. But I just learn from those mistakes, try not to make them twice and try to grow.”
NOTES: Pro Bowl DL Mike Daniels (quadriceps) missed practice but his injury is not considered serious. Also sitting out Tuesday were FB Joe Kerridge (shoulder), RB Aaron Jones (hamstring), LB C.J. Johnson (hamstring) and OL Alex Light (ankle). . Gutekunst said he had no updates on contract talks with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but continued to express confidence that an extension would get done. “I wouldn’t put any timelines on it,” Gutekunst said. “As long as everybody is working toward the same goal, I think we feel positive about it.”