Green Bay’s Health Woes: Who Is The Next Man Up?
This has surely been an interesting week for the Green Bay Packers, as far as player-personnel goes. Entering Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens, there was already some concern over how well the team’s defense would play without the services of linebacker Clay Matthews, who is expected to miss about a month with a broken thumb.
Missing their top defensive playmaker was enough to create some doubt about how the team would respond and created an outpouring of concern. Surely things couldn’t get worse, could they? But the Packers and their fans should know better by now. The injury bug keeps on biting.
That very bug had already reared its ugly head in Green Bay all the way back in August, taking down several players during training camp. Rookie offensive lineman J.C. Tretter was injured on the first day of training camp in a non-contact drill and he was placed on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. It turned out that was just the beginning for the Packers.
Since then, the team has lost a few key starters to season-ending injured reserve in that of offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga, running back DuJuan Harris, and linebacker Robert Francois. Along with Tretter, defensive lineman Jerel Worthy and safety Sean Richardson are also on PUP. Their statuses are unknown as they recover from their injuries.
Then came Sunday’s game against the Ravens and if you went by your Twitter timeline during the game, you could have sworn that Armageddon was here. One by one, Packers fell to the turf and limped off the field. Receivers James Jones and Randall Cobb and linebacker Nick Perry were done for the day by halftime. It was announced during the week that tight end Ryan Taylor needed knee surgery and will likely miss a few weeks.
How bad is Green Bay’s luck with health? Perry was injured on the great sack play that caused a fumble that was recovered by the Packers and led to three crucial points late in the first half. Matthews suffered his injury just one week prior, also after a big sack play. Even when it’s good, it’s bad. But we should have been reminded of that when the Packers finally got a blocked punt only to lose possession and great field position because of a gaffe by fullback John Kuhn, who also recently returned from an injury of his own (did anyone bother to check his head before clearing him to play last week?).
It’s almost getting to the point where it’s becoming easier to count which Packers players can play instead of who cannot. That is never a good thing. Surely you want your starters to be healthy and playing. That’s why they’re starters. They’re the team’s best option at that position and, expectedly, there is drop off with the backups. Football is a contact sport (it still is, right?) and injuries are a way of life in the NFL. There’s no avoiding it and in today’s NFL, teams have to be prepared in case a guy is lost, even the quarterback.
Bulaga’s, Matthews’ and Cobb’s injuries seem to have bigger implications for the rest of Green Bay’s season. When Bulaga went down, the left tackle position suddenly looked very bleak. The team’s master plan to move Bulaga to the left side to better-protect quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ blindside was derailed. After seeing Rodgers sacked 50+ times last season, the Packers knew they had to do more to keep him upright and able to do what he does: dissect defenses and help the team win games. Their plan was brilliant but some higher power had a different one.
That plan was rookie fourth round tackle David Bakhtiari. Bakhtiari has been more than serviceable in the team’s first six games, when you consider his overall level of play and the caliber of the opposition. Sure, we can hop on ProFootballFocus and see where he had a bad game, or was “owned” by this or that defensive player. I merely look at the fact that I don’t hear his name mentioned much during the game telecasts and for an offensive lineman, that is a good thing.
That example is one that reminds us that the Packers have done well to find some diamonds in the rough. Serviceable guys who can step in when called upon and maybe even play at a high level. Ironically, it was another Bulaga injury that sprung right tackle Don Barclay into his starting role last season. Since, Barclay has become one of the team’s better run blockers and is entrenched on the right side. Because of Bakhtiari and Barclay’s success, Marshall Newhouse is on the bench as a backup instead of on the field pretending to be a starter. Joining Newhouse on the bench could soon be former first-round tackle Derek Sherrod, who came off of PUP and practiced for the first time in nearly two years on Wednesday. Sherrod returning to action would be a huge success story and is one glimmer of hope in the mass of casualties in Green Bay.
Over the past few days, the team has had to come up with a contingency without these recently-injured players. While the Packers should get Matthews, Cobb, Taylor, Perry, Brad Jones, Casey Hayward and James Jones back before season’s end, they will need others to step in in the meantime. My Twitter timeline was filled with suggestions. To name a few: free agents Randy Moss, Chad Ochocinco, Donald Driver or trades for Hakeem Nicks, Josh Gordon and Kenny Britt. It really led me to wonder if some fans just want the name or actually believe that just plugging those guys in would fill the void.
As fate would have it, the Packers opted to pass on those known entities and went with a different kind of known entity. They promoted practice squad receiver Myles White and tight end Jake Stoneburner. To replace them on the practice squad, they brought back receiver Reggie Dunn and training camp standout receiver Tyrone Walker.
The initial reactions were interesting. I read about how Stoneburner was going to split out wide and see extensive time on Sunday with James Jones likely to sit out. I heard about how White may be worth a fantasy pickup because he may have a field day in the slot. Seneca Wallace may see some reps at receiver. Sam Shields too, since he was a receiver at the University of Miami before converting to defensive back. Entertaining, but not quite.
The term “next man up” carries a bit of double meaning in Green Bay. While these players were added to the roster, they were really added to the bottom. From there rise the guys who were already on the 53-man and ready for their chance. Guys like Jamari Lattimore, Brandon Bostick, Andrew Quarless, Nate Palmer and Andy Mulumba and Sherrod. For White and Stoneburner, being next up means being the next guy who could be the next guy.
There is a method to the madness in Green Bay. Some of that madness seems to strike fans who just want the Packers to “do something” when their starters get hurt. I have made it this far without mentioning a recent season during which the Packers found success waiting in the wings when several regulars went down. I won’t get into it, but most of you know what I’m talking about.
When it comes to luck, Green Bay doesn’t seem to enjoy any when it comes to keeping their starting core healthy throughout the season. It seems to lie, however, in who’s next. We may someday soon be talking about these “who’s” as entrenched starters who came on when the team was seemingly down to nothing.
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on "AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason at: Jason Perone
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