GREEN BAY - Entering Sunday, wide receiver Jeff Janis had lined up at the goal line to field every kickoff of the 2017 Green Bay Packers season. Nearly all of them had resulted in touchbacks, but he managed one return for 17 yards through the first five weeks.
Janis had his second opportunity of the season early in the second quarter Sunday at Minnesota. But the kickoff from Kai Forbath was an ugly one, a low line drive off to the left. Janis bobbled the ball as he scooped it up, and the Vikings’ coverage unit surrounded him in seconds.
He gained only 11 yards.
“The first kick, it really wasn’t Jeff’s fault,” special teams coordinator Ron Zook said Monday. “The guy mishit hit the ball and it kind of bounced around. And I think when Coach (Mike McCarthy) first saw it, it didn’t look like Jeff was trying to judge the ball. And I think Jeff was thinking the same thing I was thinking: It was going to roll into the end zone. And usually a ball like that you don’t want to return it if you can help it because their coverage team is going to be down there. When it did roll, it kind of rolled back (into the field of play), and it was just one of those things.”
But that was the last time Janis trotted onto the field to return a kick. From that point forward, the job belonged to wide receiver Trevor Davis. He returned two kicks for an average of 27.5 yards.
“We put Trevor in and Trevor did a nice job,” Zook said. “I think we made progress with our kickoff return, not just because of Trevor, but I think we made progress there. We haven’t had a lot of returns, and I’m really looking forward to hopefully having an opportunity to hit a few this week."
Rollins to IR: In order to create a roster spot for quarterback Joe Callahan, who was promoted off the practice squad, the Packers placed cornerback Quinten Rollins on injured reserve.
Rollins dropped out of Sunday’s game with an ankle injury in the second quarter after defending a pass to wide receiver Adam Thielen near the goal line. His right leg buckled while he was attempting to change directions, causing Rollins to fall awkwardly. Thielen helped him to his feet, and Rollins hopped to the sideline without putting any weight on his right leg.
The Packers entered the game with four healthy cornerbacks before Rollins’ injury.
“At one point in the game we had one,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said with a laugh. “So like I say, I respect what the guys did on the sideline there in terms of being able to — we had Kentrell Brice out there at one point in time, but then we were fortunate that we ended up getting another corner back. So that’s the thing we’ve got to evaluate. We’ve got to evaluate what can you do in those situations and still play competitive football.”
Other than the offensive line, which resembles a game of whack-a-mole with players popping in and out, the cornerback position is the most depleted. Starters Kevin King (concussion) and Davon House (quadriceps) were inactive for Sunday’s game, and without Rollins the Packers are down to three healthy corners on the 53-man roster: Damarious Randall, Josh Hawkins and undrafted rookie Lenzy Pipkins, who was thrust into action for the first time this season.
“I thought (Pipkins) did a good job,” Capers said. “I mean it’s his first action. He blitzed, he had a couple tackles for losses in there, played fairly physical. You saw there the way they threw the little swing screen there on the last series, he came up and made a good tackle. I thought he was aggressive and made some good plays.”
It’s possible the Packers could receive a shot in the arm from an unexpected source. Cornerback Demetri Goodson, who tore his ACL last November, is eligible to begin practicing this week after beginning the year on the PUP list.
Starting Wednesday, the Packers have a three-week window in which Goodson can return to practice. Once he returns, the Packers have three weeks to decide whether to activate him.
The same applies for rookie outside linebacker Vince Biegel, a fourth-round pick earlier this year. Both players could provide much-needed reinforcement on defense and special teams if their medical reports are clean.
Line ‘em up: Brett Hundley’s challenge this weekend will depend in part on who is available to protect him along the offensive line.
Starters David Bakhtiari (hamstring), Lane Taylor (ankle/knee) and Bryan Bulaga (concussion) all dropped out of Sunday’s loss to the Vikings. Their status will not be clear until later in the week.
“Hopefully (Tuesday) brings a little more light to that, and the reality of that is we probably won’t have clarity until Thursday,” McCarthy said. “Is it (like the) Chicago week? I don’t know. Is it (like) the Bengals? That’s kind of the way we’re talking as a staff because you only have so many reps at practice and you want to try to get them ironed out.
“We have to focus on the concepts of the Saints defense and how they’re going to attack us. I would perfectly assume they’re going to be aggressive, and hey that’s great, that’s football, so that’s what we’re focused on getting ready for. But who’s going to line up where on the offensive line, I really don’t know yet.”