Injuries mounting for wayward Packers

Michael Cohen
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Green Bay Packers cornerback Demetri Goodson (39) is taken off the field on a cart after being hurt against the Washington Redskins at Fedex Field in Landover, MD, November 20, 2016.

GREEN BAY - As the left leg of Green Bay Packers cornerback Demetri Goodson twisted and bent to a sickening degree, the immediate reaction from players, fans and reporters was to cringe and close their eyes.

A day later, the gnarled image had yet to evaporate from Lambeau Field. When asked about the nature of the injury, defensive coordinator Dom Capers recoiled, winced and prefaced his answer with a sharp inhale of breath.

“Well, the thing that’s tough is Demetri is such a competitor and he’s such a coachable guy,” Capers said. “He only knows one speed. He’s going to give that to you and you love guys like that. To see that happen — he’s a good guy.”

Goodson’s injury serves as the darkest reminder that overall health has become a prevailing storyline for this year’s Packers, one that thickened in Sunday’s blowout loss to Washington. Speaking at his news conference Monday, coach Mike McCarthy offered little in the way of updates as his team prepares to face the Philadelphia Eagles next week. The only certainty, horrific as it may be, is the severity of Goodson’s damage.

“It was a significant injury,” McCarthy said. “I do not really have any information as far as each player and where they are. A lot of MRIs going on late morning and early afternoon, so we’re still collecting all the information. But Demetri will not be available obviously this week. It was a significant injury.”

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That Goodson started multiple games this year, including Sunday against Washington, speaks to the depth of the problems at cornerback for Capers. Without Sam Shields (concussion) and Damarious Randall (groin surgery), the top-flight corner is LaDarius Gunter, a former undrafted free agent who scratches and claws to offset a serious lack of speed. Gunter has been steady at times and shaky at others, but the lasting image from Washington is the 70-yard touchdown he allowed to wide receiver Pierre Garcon.

Gunter’s expected complement was cornerback Quinten Rollins, last year’s second-round pick. But Rollins is nursing a groin injury that, according to McCathy, is worse than Rollins let on during interviews. He came off the bench Sunday and, like Gunter, was beaten for a touchdown when wideout Jamison Crowder got behind him for a 44-yard score.

“Quinten Rollins, to be honest with you, his injury was a setback,” McCarthy said. “It was bigger… I know when he did it on the practice field, it was a big injury. He fought back. Frankly, he came back earlier than the medical staff thought. I think he’s still working through that. Like anybody, that’s the first time he’s ever had that type of injury.”

Though cornerback remains the epicenter of injury woes, the thinning inside linebacker group isn’t far behind. The Packers promoted Carl Bradford from the practice squad to offset an ankle injury to starter Jake Ryan, one of just three inside backers general manager Ted Thompson kept on his 53-man roster in early September.

The unit took another blow in Washington when rookie Blake Martinez exited with a knee problem. Martinez, who starts alongside Ryan, was seen on crutches after the game.

There is a very real scenario in which the Packers travel to Philadelphia with Bradford and Joe Thomas as their only options at inside linebacker. Should that happen, McCarthy and Capers will entertain the idea of shifting Clay Matthews back inside.

“We haven’t discussed it yet,” Capers said. “That’s what we’ll do first thing tomorrow. Tomorrow is our game plan day. We’ll look to who we think is going to be available and look at our alternatives, what we want to do; what the Eagles are doing certainly always influences those things.”

If Matthews switches positions he joins a number of Packers already thrust into new locations. When right guard T.J. Lang suffered a foot injury against Tennessee, reserve Don Barclay stepped up after spending the majority of training camp at center. When Barclay injured his shoulder in Washington — he hurt the shoulder during warmups and lasted only part of the game — rookie left tackle Jason Spriggs took his place.

“There’s certainly good and bad,” offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said of the replacements up front. “Just overall I would say we just have to continue to clean up the detail of everything — not just one particular area, as far as run game, pass game — we can be better in both areas, and I think each and every one of our guys would definitely see it that way.”

The special-teams units have suffered as well. A muffed punt by rookie Trevor Davis triggered a switch to trusted defensive back Micah Hyde, who is nursing a shoulder problem. When that shoulder flared up after a crunching hit against Tennessee, coordinator Ron Zook turned to wide receiver Randall Cobb, who is something of an emergency option.

Zook’s units have become particularly thin as his core players have wilted. He has cobbled together groups without Randall, Rollins, Goodson, Martinez, Ryan, Chris Banjo (hamstring) and, as of late Sunday, safety Kentrell Brice, who injured his back while playing in Capers’ dime defense.

Instead, Zook has turned to extreme youth.

“We’ve got a bunch of young guys,” Zook said. “ … We’ve got to be there to help them through this thing.”

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