Packers try to adjust after rash of receiver injuries
GREEN BAY — Over the years, Ted Thompson developed more than a few go-to answers to certain repeat questions he’d face during his intermittent chats with reporters. But none was more predictable than when someone would point out how his Green Bay Packers appeared deep at a certain position.
“You know,” the longtime Packers general manager was fond of saying in his Texas drawl, “it only takes a sprained ankle or two to be pretty darn thin at some spots.”
In the case of the Packers’ wide receiving corps, it turns out they were a strained calf, a concussion, a strained hamstring, a dislocated shoulder and a pulled hamstring away from being pretty darn thin at wide receiver.
And that may mean big challenges for Sunday’s game at Detroit.
No. 1 wideout Davante Adams sat out Thursday with a calf injury that flared up during Wednesday’s practice. Veteran No. 2 Randall Cobb did not practice again because of a hamstring injury suffered in practice last week. And emerging third receiver Geronimo Allison didn’t practice as he remained in the concussion protocol after leaving last Sunday’s game against Buffalo.
As a result, the Packers re-signed 2017 fifth-round pick DeAngelo Yancey — he was cut at the end of training camp — to the practice squad and might have to elevate him to the 53-man roster.
The Packers are also without former UW-Whitewater standout Jake Kumerow (shoulder) and third-year wideout Trevor Davis (hamstring), both of whom would come in handy right about now but are on injured reserve.
At practice Thursday, the only wide receivers available were rookies Marquez Valdes-Scantling, J’Mon Moore and Equanimeous St. Brown and Yancey, who spent all of last season on the practice squad and wasn’t picked up by another team after the Packers released him on the final roster reduction.
So now what?
“The personnel that you have, you’re going to have to adapt, no matter what,” offensive passing-game coordinator Jim Hostler said Thursday evening. “The ability to be able to play and win games with different personnel and different styles, that’s what this league is all about.”
If Adams, Cobb and Allison are all out for Sunday – something that could happen, but isn’t certain at this point – the young receivers certainly will have to play and produce. But the Packers could reduce the demands on their inexperienced wideouts by utilizing their three veteran tight ends (Jimmy Graham, Lance Kendricks and Marcedes Lewis) and by continuing to increase the workload of their three running backs (Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery).
“That’s another advantage we have with having a veteran tight end group,” Hostler continued. “We can go out there and play all three of them. Obviously, when you have injuries outside, the tight ends are going to be part of it more. You’re going to have to lean on them more.”
Kendricks, who started out as a wide receiver at the University of Wisconsin, is the most versatile of the three, while Graham has often been viewed as an oversized wide receiver throughout his career.
“It’s a challenge,” Kendricks admitted. “I think the pressure kind of always falls on the tight ends to pick up some of the slack – wherever it might be. Whether it’s the run game, or receivers going down, we always have to know everything just in case something were to happen. That’s the position we’re in now.”
Montgomery said he hasn’t worked any more with the wide receivers this week or lined up for any 11-on-11 plays at wideout this week in practice, an indication he isn’t anything more than an emergency option at this point.
“I’m just doing what I normally do,” Montgomery said. “It’s not like I need to be over there or be considered a receiver to do that or be considered a running back to do that. I’ve always done whatever they ask me to do. Come game time, if they ask me to do something, I’m going to do it. But to my knowledge, nothing’s really changed on my end and those young guys that we have (at receiver) are talented guys. We saw that in camp. We know what they can do.”
Cobb said that while his hamstring has improved, “we’ve still got some progress to make” before he or the team’s medical staff will feel comfortable with him playing. He didn’t sound particularly optimistic Thursday about his chances, and emphasized the importance of a game plan that takes into account the young wideouts’ inexperience, especially having had limited work with demanding two-time NFL MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
“They’re some bright players, they continue to grow, but we’ve got to make things easier for them as well,” Cobb said. “When it comes to the game plan, we’ve got to make sure they understand what their responsibilities are and give them stuff they know and put them in positions to be successful.
“We have three veteran tight ends, but three are in their first year (in Green Bay) as well (in Graham, Lewis and first-year man Robert Tonyan). The adjustments you make as an offense, we have to make sure we put them in situations where they can be successful.”
That responsibility will fall to coach Mike McCarthy and offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, who served in that same role from 2007 through 2011 and was a position coach on staff starting in 2003. During those tours of duty, he saw the receiving corps depleted by injuries at different points, too – although never quite like this, with only three unproven rookies with a combined 85 offensive snaps (with 74 belonging to Valdes-Scantling) potentially left standing.
“There might have been games where we went in with four receivers and two of them got dinged in the game and all of a sudden it’s a whole different ballgame,” Philbin said. “Again, we’ve got a diverse group of tight ends. We’ve got Ty Montgomery’s been playing well, he’s got a lot of versatility. We have to be prepared really for a lot of possibilities come Sunday.”
Rodgers was a full participant in practice, the first time he’s been able to do that since his Sept. 9 knee injury. … Tight end Jimmy Graham was back practicing after sitting out Wednesday as part of McCarthy’s “maintenance” plan with him. … Cornerback Kevin King (groin) practiced in full for the second straight day. … Safety Jermaine Whitehead (back) did not practice and safety Kentrell Brice was limited in practice because of an ankle injury. Brice, who has a history of ankle problems, was wearing an electric stimulation unit on his ankle after practice and appeared downtrodden. … Backup guard Lucas Patrick (back) was added to the injury report, a concern given that starting right guard Justin McCray (shoulder) missed last week’s game and has been limited in practice.