The Packers will be looking for rookies such as Terrell Manning and Sean Richardson to become key special teams players now that a run of injuries is moving backups into more prominent roles on defense.
With D.J. Smith (knee) out for the season at inside linebacker and cornerback Sam Shields probably out for this week if not longer, special-teams core players such as Brad Jones and Casey Hayward will be playing regularly on defense, perhaps even becoming full-time defenders. That means they’ll have to cut back on their special-teams responsibilities, which in turn means that players who haven’t played much if at all this season will take over significant special-teams roles.
Every NFL team goes through stretches like this every season, and special-teams coach Shawn Slocum said that roster depth is a big factor in separating the teams who continue to perform well from those that don’t.
“I think we’ve got some young guys that have not been playing that when they get their opportunity will show up now,” Slocum said. “Fully expect them to be very good special teams players.”
Manning, a fifth-round draft pick this year, has been a game-day inactive all but one week so far this season but will suit up this week as a backup inside linebacker now that Smith is out. Richardson, a safety who made the roster as an undrafted rookie, hasn’t suited up for a game yet because of a hamstring injury but has been practicing this week and could return for Sunday’s game at St. Louis. The Packers like both as special-teams prospects because of their size-speed combinations: Manning is 6-feet-2 and 237 pounds, and Richardson is 6-2 and 216.
“I think both of them are very instinctive cover guys,” Slocum said. “They understand football, and they go to the ball. They know how to go to the ball, how to slip blocks. I think both of them are accountable guys. They’ve been working hard through the early part of this season and haven’t had an opportunity to play – Manning one game. But I fully expect those guys to give us a good shot in the arm.”
Besides the two injured starters, the Packers last week lost running back Brandon Saine, a core special-teams player, to a season-ending knee injury. Saine was a regular on all four special-teams units.
To replace him on the roster, they claimed halfback Johnny White (5-10, 210) off waivers this week after he’d been released by Buffalo. Though White will have only three days of practice with the Packers by Sunday, he could be on the 46-man game-day active list for special-teams duties.
“I think he could, because he’s got the experience doing it,” Slocum said. “We’ll make a decision on who we’ll play with as we finish the week in terms of our preparation. But he’s fully capable of doing it.”