Short turnaround not helping depth of Packers’ injured offensive line
GREEN BAY, Wis. — Injuries have hammered away at the offensive line depth of the Green Bay Packers.
Left tackle David Bakhtiari and fellow starter at right tackle, Bryan Bulaga, haven’t played a game together since the second week of the preseason, a trend that could continue Thursday night against the Chicago Bears.
Bakhtiari and Bulaga were limited Tuesday in practice, which was scaled back because of injuries and the short turnaround from the overtime win Sunday against Cincinnati.
That both players practiced was key to their prospects for facing the Bears.
“If an individual doesn’t get into the limited practice category today, I think he’d be hard pressed to play in the game Thursday,” coach Mike McCarthy said before practice. “That’s about as good as I can give you based on the information that I have.”
Bulaga missed the first two games with an injured ankle but started on Sunday. However, he aggravated the injury in the fourth quarter and missed the last 23 snaps.
Bakhtiari missed the last two games with a hamstring injury sustained late in the Week 1 win over Seattle.
“I’ve been progressing every day since the injury,” he said. “That’s important. We’re taking the right steps and that’s the most important thing.”
Versatile veteran Don Barclay injured an ankle in the preseason and was placed on injured reserve. Jason Spriggs, a second-round pick last year who was expected to be the swing tackle, injured a hamstring in the opener and was also placed on injured reserve.
That left Kyle Murphy, a sixth-round pick last year who played only eight snaps as a rookie, as the top backup.
Murphy replaced Bulaga in Week 1 and Bakhtiari in Weeks 2 and 3, but was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday. He played all 70 snaps of the overtime victory against the Bengals despite a foot injury in the fourth quarter.
The revolving door has impacted the Aaron Rodgers-led passing attack, even though Rodgers has topped 300 yards in each game this season. Rodgers directed the Packers to the tying drive at the end of regulation and the winning drive in overtime against Cincinnati.
“Protection-wise, we have had to be smart about who’s playing out there and what we can handle,” Rodgers said.
“You’re talking about two starters and then primary backups who’ve been out. So, it’s been a work in progress, but those guys are playing hard.”
The best-case scenario would have Bakhtiari and Bulaga playing well on Thursday. The backup plans include Justin McCray, who played center and guard throughout the preseason but started at right tackle against Atlanta, and Adam Pankey, an undrafted rookie who started the season on the practice squad.
Ulrick John, a seventh-round pick by Indianapolis in 2014 who started three games at right tackle for Arizona last season, was signed off the Cardinals’ practice squad on Tuesday.
Otherwise, the Packers appear to be in better shape than they were on Sunday, when six starters were inactive and Bulaga joined them on the bench.
Receiver Randall Cobb (chest), defensive tackle Mike Daniels (hip) and safety Kentrell Brice (groin), all of whom were inactive last week, were full participants in practice. So was outside linebacker Nick Perry, who wore a large cast on a surgically repaired right hand.
Running back Ty Montgomery (wrist), who leads the team in rushing and receptions, was also a full participant.
NOTE: Rodgers said the team would ask fans to join the Packers in locking arms during the national anthem on Thursday. Most of the Packers stood on the sideline and locked arms during the anthem before the Bengals game. “We’re going to continue to show love and unity, and this week we’re going to ask the fans to join in as well and come together and show people that we can be connected and we can grow together.” Rodgers said there has been some “positive conversation”, but also “a lot of hatred on my social media” following the team’s decision for the national anthem last week. He said the showing was about equality.