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Is preseason over for Packers’ offensive starters? It could be

August 21, 2018

GREEN BAY — Aaron Rodgers and the starting Green Bay Packers offense’s preseason game action may be done.

The quarterback and most of the starters ran the scout-team cards during Monday’s practice, a strong indicator they won’t play in Friday night’s third preseason game at Oakland.

And that’s just fine with wide receiver Randall Cobb, who hasn’t forgotten the summer of 2015. That was when No. 1 wide receiver Jordy Nelson — his old pal who he’ll see with his new team, the Raiders, this week — tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in a game at Pittsburgh, and the next week, Cobb suffered a significant shoulder injury against Philadelphia.

Suddenly, a duo who’d caught a combined 189 passes for 2,806 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2014 had their 2015 seasons derailed before they even began.

“I really don’t think you need the pointless games. What’s the point of going out and playing three plays? In ’15, I was playing three plays (against the Eagles), and on the third play, I messed up my shoulder. So what’s the point of taking that risk if it’s not worth anything?” Cobb said after practice Monday. “Jordy tore his ACL in Pittsburgh. The next week, I had three plays; the third play, a guy landed on me, AC (joint injury). And it bothered me the entire season.

“I feel like the preseason is more for guys showing what they can do and trying to figure out pecking order and all that kind of stuff.”

Packers coach Mike McCarthy apparently feels the same way. He’s pointed out in recent days that the third preseason game, which traditionally had been the game in which starters played the most, is no longer the vital dress rehearsal it had been in the past. While playing-time decisions aren’t made until later in the week, the way snaps were distributed in practice would indicate the starting defense will play a few series but the starting offense will not.

“It’s different than really any other year we’ve been here,” McCarthy said. “Maybe (the third preseason game will be) similar for our defense, just because of the trajectory they’re on. (But) offensively, we’re on a different trajectory.”

McCarthy pointed to the offensive line, where right guard Justin McCray (calf) did not practice and is unlikely to play, and left guard Lane Taylor (ankle, quadriceps) has been in and out of the lineup throughout camp.

The starting offense was on the field for seven plays — including two penalty plays — for the opening drive in last week’s win over Pittsburgh, which ended with a Rodgers-to-Jimmy Graham touchdown pass.

Asked if there’s a point in camp when the starters on offense know they’re ready for the games that count, Cobb said there is — and that the offense has already hit that point, making more game action unnecessary — in the players’ opinion.

“You can feel it. It’s a feeling thing. You can tell by the energy, you can tell by the communication, guys are on the same page,” Cobb said. “Like when Aaron’s able to make a check in practice and I can pick it up, or I do something in my route on a certain play and he’s on the same page as me, those are the little things (that say), ‘OK, we’re game-ready.’ We definitely have had those moments throughout training camp.”

Line dancing

Much to McCarthy’s chagrin, the Packers’ preferred starters on the offensive line — David Bakhtiari at left tackle, Taylor at left guard, Corey Linsley at center, McCray at right guard and Bryan Bulaga at right tackle — won’t see any game action together in preseason. Bakhtiari missed the first game with an ankle injury, Bulaga has practiced but hasn’t played in a game yet coming off an ACL tear, Taylor has yet to play and now McCray likely won’t play this week.

But McCarthy said there’s still value in getting, for example, extra work for new veteran Byron Bell, who was at right tackle and left guard against Pittsburgh and likely will start at right guard at Oakland.

“We’re not going to achieve the goal of having them all at practice together at once. With that, the focus of playing in different combinations is really what we’re going to take advantage of with this (week),” McCarthy said. “Because obviously when you get into the regular season, are you going to keep seven (linemen active)? Are you going to keep eight? So this is all good work, good experience that we can push forward to when we get ready for the 46-man (game-day) roster each and every week.

“Yes, ideally you’d like to rep your five or six, seven guys, or just get into a rhythm there, but that’s just because of the injuries we haven’t been able to get that done.”

Backfield in motion

The backfield is in flux, too — from Aaron Jones’ looming suspension to start the regular season and the hamstring injury that forced him to miss most of camp; to Jamaal Williams’ ankle injury, which occurred during Thursday night’s game against Pittsburgh when, he says, Steelers linebacker Vince Williams intentionally twisted it at the end of a play; to Devante Mays’ lingering hamstring injury that’ll keep him out another week; to the unexpected retirement of promising rookie Akeem Judd, who was placed on the reserve/retired list after informing McCarthy on Friday that he was walking away from the game.

To bolster the position, the Packers signed Bronson Hill, who spent two games on Arizona’s 53-man roster after bouncing around a host of practice squads, on Sunday, and LeShun Daniels, who played four games for Washington last season, on Saturday.

“We’re a little thin at running back,” McCarthy admitted. “We’ve got a number of different balls in the air — (more) than I recall at this particular juncture of a training camp.”

Jones, who has yet to play in a preseason game after a breakout rookie season last year, will miss the team’s Sept. 9 regular-season opener against Chicago and the Sept. 16 game against Minnesota for violating the league’s policy on substance abuse. He injured his hamstring early in camp and took part in 11-on-11 team drills for the first time again on Monday.

Williams, meanwhile, said his ankle injury was the direct result of Williams grabbing and twisting it at the end of a run. Williams, who did not practice but took handoffs and appeared to move well during a workout with the medical staff, said he planned on kicking the next defensive player who does what he says Williams did.

“If they’re twisting ankles, I’m for sure kicking,” Williams said. “I’m kicking from now on. If the ref asks why I’m kicking, I’ll be like, ‘Hey, he’s twisting ankles.’ I’m just going to do what I’ve got to do to survive honestly. I’m not trying to get hurt and not be able to play anymore because somebody wants to be aggressive and do dirty things like that. So why I can I not protect myself from those type of injuries?

Mays, who made the team as a seventh-round pick last year, won’t play this week and is running out of time to make the roster, McCarthy admitted.

“(The opportunities) are running out. There’s a sense of urgency,” Mays admitted. “I want to get back out there as soon as I can. But I also want to be smart with it because if I try to push it too fast and go back out there, then it’s more disappointment.”

Extra points

Linebacker Clay Matthews, who is in the last year of his contract, said his agent and the Packers have “had talks” about a new deal but offered no specifics. “We’ll see where it goes. At the same time, I’ll just go out there and do my thing and let the pieces fall where they may,” Matthews said. “I’ve been here going on 10 years, so I’d like to obviously add a few more to that. I’m not in control of that. All I can control is what I do on Sundays, and hopefully it’s a big year.” … Wide receiver Jake Kumerow, sidelined by a shoulder injury suffered against the Steelers, did not practice but said he’s “not too sore. I feel pretty good.” … Cornerback Davon House dropped out of practice with a hamstring injury, but it’s unclear the severity. … Among the players returning to team drills after extended layoffs were defensive tackle Mike Daniels (quadriceps), cornerback Kevin King (shoulder) and safety Jermaine Whitehead (back). … General manager Brian Gutekunst watched Monday’s practice with his father, John, the former head coach at the University of Minnesota.

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