GREEN BAY – The Green Bay Packers appear poised to use their second and final return from injured reserve designation on quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Rodgers is eligible to practice for the first time Friday, officially six weeks after being placed on IR following his broken right collarbone Oct. 15 at Minnesota. The Packers don’t practice Friday, but coach Mike McCarthy said there’s a chance Rodgers could participate in the team’s Saturday practice.
“The plan,” McCarthy said, “he’s got a workout today that we’ll obviously evaluate. We’re looking tomorrow to potentially practice him for a trial return. That’s the outlook. We’ll determine that tomorrow after his work today.”
Once Rodgers practices, the wheels will be in motion for him to return this season.
A team can not practice a player on injured reserve unless they officially use their return designation. The Packers used their first return designation on right tackle Jason Spriggs, now the team’s starter after Bryan Bulaga’s season-ending torn ACL.
It would seem unlikely the Packers would burn their second return designation unless they intend for Rodgers to play.
Rodgers threw approximately 40 passes to quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt during a pregame workout at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh before the Packers' game against the Steelers on Sunday, including one that traveled roughly 50 yards. The hope was Rodgers might throw by the six-week mark after having surgery to repair his broken right clavicle, a goal he cleared by four days.
“You saw him throwing out there in Pittsburgh,” Van Pelt said. “He’s doing well. He’s getting healthy, and he’s following right along in rehab. He’s probably ahead of the curve a little bit, but there’s really not anything to talk about until there’s something to talk about.”
There might not be anything to talk about if the Packers continue to lose.
Even if he's healthy, the Packers could choose to keep Rodgers sidelined if they drop out of playoff contention. Rodgers’ return could hinge on the Packers' winning their next two games: Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and next week at the Cleveland Browns.
Rodgers is eligible to return against the Carolina Panthers on Dec. 17. With wins the next two weeks, the Packers would have a 7-6 record at that point. The Panthers are one of the teams ahead of the Packers in contention for an NFC wild-card spot.
McCarthy said Rodgers’ return to practice could give his team a morale boost.
“I think it’s a big deal when you see your leader out there,” McCarthy said. “Yeah, definitely. The guys have been able to watch him work here the last couple weeks. He’s been going through the fundamental part of it. I think you also have to be in tune with the trial return mode.
“But, yeah, that’d be great to have him out there.”