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Path looks clear for LB Erik Walden to start against New York Giants

Nov. 30, 2011
 

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Green Bay Packers LB Erik Walden sacks Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman in the first quarter of their game Nov. 20, at Lambeau Field. / File/Gannett Wisconsin Media

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Barring an unexpected disciplinary ruling by the NFL this week, outside linebacker Erik Walden will start for the Green Bay Packers on Sunday against the New York Giants.

Walden spent last weekend in jail after he was arrested early Friday on suspicion that he assaulted his girlfriend.

Whatever internal discipline the Packers may invoke, if any, won’t prevent him from playing this week, coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday. Walden appeared to take his usual workload of reps as the starting right outside linebacker during preparations for the Giants.

“His situation is obviously under review, going through the legal process,” McCarthy said. “No different than the process that the league has in place. With that, we respect that and, based on the information we have to date, Erik will play in the game.”

McCarthy said he wouldn’t discuss whether Walden would face any sanctions from the team.

“We’ll watch the process, gather all the information,” McCarthy said. “Those types of decisions are in-house decisions anyway. We’ve never discussed discipline publicly. We’re respecting the process and collecting the information.”

The league isn’t likely to make any ruling on whether Walden will be suspended this week. It typically makes disciplinary decisions early in the week so teams have time to game plan for any changes they might have to make.

It’s also unclear what charges, if any, he will face in court. After Walden’s court appearance Monday, Brown County District Attorney John Zakowski said Walden’s girlfriend now claims that she started the argument and that Walden was merely defending himself. Walden’s next scheduled court appearance is Dec. 7.

Fellow starting outside linebacker Clay Matthews supported McCarthy’s decision to play Walden against the Giants.

“I don’t know all the details of his case, but in America you’re innocent until proven guilty,” Matthews said. “I think we’re all waiting for the details to come out, but at the same time, he deserves to play.”

Walden was not in the locker room during the media availability period after Wednesday’s practice, but a day earlier in a brief meeting with reporters he apologized to his teammates, the organization and fans for causing a distraction.

Picked up in midseason last year, Walden has started every game this season and ranks fourth on the team in tackles. He’s also tied for third with three sacks and ranks second behind Matthews in quarterback hits.

The fourth-year pro is coming off perhaps his best performance of the season at Detroit last Thursday, less than 24 hours before his arrest. He finished as the team’s leading tackler with 10 stops and also registered three quarterback hits. He didn’t record a sack but drew a penalty on left tackle Jack Backus for illegal use of hands.

“He’s really stepped up his game of late,” Matthews said. “It’s clearly evident when you watch the film.”

If Walden is suspended, the Packers could turn to Frank Zombo, who hasn’t played since he sustained a hamstring injury on Nov. 6 at San Diego. Zombo, who was battling Walden for the starting job in training camp until he broke his scapula in warmups prior to the second preseason game, may have been able to play last week at Detroit but was inactive. He was not listed on this week’s injury report.

“I was healthy (last week), but I had only one practice under my belt in three weeks, and it was basically a glorified walk-through,” Zombo said. “So to jump out there and play in an NFL game is probably not the smartest thing. It’s a good way to get hurt again.”

rdemovsk@greenbaypressgazette.com and follow him on Twitter @RobDemovsky.

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