GREEN BAY - The Green Bay Packers have not ruled out any of their key injured players and all are expected to be cleared for the NFC championship game against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
The question is whether coach Mike McCarthy thinks they can play fast enough or last long enough to be factors in the game.
Barring any setbacks during pregame workouts, receivers Jordy Nelson (broken ribs), Davante Adams (ankle) and Geronimo Allison (hamstring), and safety Morgan Burnett (thigh) are going to be available, according to a league source. Nelson, Adams, Allison and Burnett all remained questionable after practice Saturday, which means they have a 1 percent to 50 percent chance of playing.
The Packers made one change to their injury report after their Saturday morning practice, listing running back Christine Michael questionable with a back injury.
The biggest issue McCarthy faces in playing the injured is figuring out how to use them knowing they aren't 100 percent and could drop out of the game at any time. If all four of them dropped out, McCarthy would be down to 42 players in a game that is expected to be a track meet and will require as many healthy bodies as possible.
Thus, he has to make a risk-reward determination with each player.
Just in case he's unsure about one of the receivers, the Packers signed practice squad receiver Max McCaffrey to the 53-man roster. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound rookie, the son of former Denver Broncos standout Ed McCaffrey and brother of 2015 Heisman Trophy runner-up Christian McCaffrey, has been on the practice squad since Dec. 20.
McCaffrey caught 117 passes for 1,341 yards and 12 touchdowns at Duke. He was undrafted and signed as a free agent with Oakland in May. He was cut Aug. 29.
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To make room for McCaffrey, the Packers placed center JC Tretter on injured reserve. Tretter had surgery on his right knee Tuesday.
Nelson is just two weeks removed from the hit he took against the New York Giants that fractured two ribs. He ran routes and caught passes during practice Thursday but did not take part in any contact drills.
The practice Saturday was conducted without pads and isn't as intense as the work Thursday. Nelson probably will have his ribs protected by a flak jacket that will absorb the force of any hit he takes to the area, but pain will be something he'll have to accept. It's not clear if a numbing agent can be used to help alleviate it.
"It’s one of those things that you’ll figure out when you get out there," Nelson said at mid-week about playing with broken ribs. "If it happens, we’ll see how it goes."
Adams has experience playing through a sprained ankle. He did it most of last year.
However, he was nothing like the player he has been this season and this injury also could rob him of his quick get-off at the line of scrimmage, an asset he uses to compensate for not having top-flight speed. Adams finished the game against Dallas after injuring the ankle in the fourth quarter, but he has had to spend the entire week resting it and getting the swelling down.
"It’s just a matter of how much that I can put up with and go out there to where I’m able to be myself and express myself in my routes the way I do and not hurt the team by being out there," Adams said this week. "So I’m just going to do what I can to make sure I can be available and then after that we’ll see."
Allison's injury might be the trickiest because McCarthy has no evidence of how well the rookie plays through injury. He knows what Nelson and Adams have done when hurt, but this is the first injury Allison has suffered this season.
Like the others, Allison did not practice during the week and was undergoing round-the-clock treatment for an injury he suffered in the Dallas game. He said he wanted to practice but was doing what the medical staff wanted.
"He’s going to have to prove himself at a higher level than say, Jordy, because there’s history there and we know what he’s capable of doing," McCarthy said Friday. "Same with Morgan. You just have to work through that."
Burnett and Nelson were the only ones who were listed in the Friday injury report as "limited," which means had the Packers practiced they would have done something. Thus, it's likely Burnett is ahead of the others and a pretty good bet to play.
Like the others, he was hurt in the Dallas game.
The wide receiver rotation might be done by feel. Both rookie Trevor Davis and veteran Jeff Janis will be active and ready to be part of the rotation. However, if everyone is able to play, it's likely McCarthy would limit the snaps of Nelson, Adams and Allison in order to get the most out of them.
McCarthy can also use running back Ty Montgomery at wide receiver, but if he does it's not certain that Michael would be his replacement. It's not clear if the back injury he suffered is an ongoing problem that flared up or is something that occurred Saturday and will need further evaluation Sunday.
The injury to Michael creates a problem if he's not able to play. The only other player capable of playing running back is fullback Aaron Ripkowski, leaving McCarthy perilously thin. However, Ripkowski has shown he can be effective as a single back and would be able to fill in if McCarthy wanted to use Montgomery at receiver during certain parts of the game.
If Michael can't play, special teams coach Ron Zook would have to find someone to replace him on kickoffs. Davis, who had a 55-yard punt return against the Falcons in October, would be a candidate to join Janis. Defensive back Micah Hyde would be an option as well.