GREEN BAY – Whether Jake Ryan can play Monday night most likely hinges on how he fares in practice over the weekend, but the Green Bay Packers' second-year linebacker has a chance.
Ryan practiced Friday for the first time since spraining his ankle two weeks ago at Tennessee. He was listed as limited on the Packers' first injury report of the week Thursday, though they didn’t practice because of Thanksgiving. He missed Wednesday’s practice because of a personal matter unrelated to his ankle.
“Jake looks good,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “Jake’s going to practice today. He’ll go through the early part of it. They just want to be smart with his first day back.
“Everything looks good for Jake so far.”
During the early portions of practice open to the media, Ryan stayed inside the Don Hutson Center and worked on rehabbing his ankle. He later joined the team outside on Clarke Hinkle Field and went through individual drills. The Packers were expected to be cautious with Ryan in his first practice back from injury.
Ryan’s potential return Monday could keep the Packers from having to move Clay Matthews to inside linebacker, something they’d prefer not to do. Matthews, who has missed four games because of a hamstring injury this season, remains the team’s top edge rusher.
Without Ryan, the Packers would be down to two inside linebackers on their active roster: Joe Thomas and Carl Bradford. Blake Martinez said this week he has a sprained MCL. The rookie likely will miss a few weeks.
Bradford is primarily a special-teams contributor. The Packers could get through a game with Ryan and Thomas at inside linebacker without moving Matthews inside, though they would only be an injury away from making the move.
“The coaches made sure,” Matthews said, “especially how thin it is at that position, to be ready and to be available. So I’ve taken a look at the playbook, and made sure for whatever reason they throw me inside, I’ll be ready. So we’ll see what that means moving forward.
“What I’m going through in practice is strictly outside, but we’ll see what that means moving forward.”
Ryan’s importance to the defense might have been seen in Tennessee. Though there were other factors – Matthews was also inactive – that likely led to the Packers coughing up 47 points at the Titans, Ryan sprained his ankle covering a punt before the Packers’ first defensive snap.
Their sudden-change adjustments within the interior of their defense certainly didn’t help. Without Ryan, the Packers top run defender, the Packers have allowed more than 150 rushing yards each of their past two games. They’ve also allowed more than 40 points in each of their past two games for the first time since 1950.
“You look for that leap from Year 1 to Year 2,” McCarthy said. “He’s really comfortable with what’s being asked of him. The adjustment part is cleaner for him. He’s just playing faster. He’s seeing it. He’s a heck of a football player, he’s instinctive, he’s tough. He just looks a lot more comfortable, and he’s playing a lot faster.”
email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood