GREEN BAY - The decision to rely heavily on younger players is becoming easier and easier for Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy ahead of Sunday’s regular-season finale.
In a week when the Packers’ injury report swelled to 15 players, including the midweek addition of defensive end Mike Daniels (shoulder), McCarthy on Friday ruled out six players more than 48 hours before kickoff against the Detroit Lions.
The Packers will take the field Sunday without wide receivers Davante Adams (concussion) and Jordy Nelson (shoulder), right guard Jahri Evans (knee), running back Aaron Jones (knee), outside linebacker Nick Perry (ankle/shoulder) and tight end Richard Rodgers (shoulder).
“We only have to look to one guy for the inactive list now,” McCarthy said with a smirk.
In addition, outside linebacker Clay Matthews (hamstring), wide receiver Geronimo Allison (illness), cornerback Damarious Randall (knee) and tackle Ulrick John (back) are questionable.
With so many injuries to key contributors, the Packers will be forced to increase the snap counts of players who haven’t seen the field much this season, whether they want to or not.
At the receiver position, where Randall Cobb is the only healthy veteran, the trio of Michael Clark, Trevor Davis and Jeff Janis should notice an uptick in playing time for the second consecutive week. Allison, another youngster, has missed two days of practice this week with illness, but McCarthy said he expects Allison to be available against the Lions.
At tight end, where the Packers have been uncharacteristically thin since the departure of Martellus Bennett, the majority of reps will fall to Lance Kendricks. McCarthy and his staff were given a second option when general manager Ted Thompson promoted Emanuel Byrd from the practice squad earlier this week. Byrd never has played in a regular-season game.
At outside linebacker, where both Perry and Matthews were unavailable against the Vikings, the Packers received a shot in the arm from undrafted rookie Reggie Gilbert, who was promoted from the practice squad last week. Gilbert, rookie Vince Biegel and Kyler Fackrell should rotate through the lineup even if Matthews (hamstring) returns after practicing on a limited basis Wednesday and Thursday.
At running back, where the decision to draft three players has proved as necessary as it was shrewd, the Packers are eager to give Devante Mays another chance. Mays fumbled on the first two carries of his career against the Baltimore Ravens and has not touched the ball since.
“I think his overall preparation will certainly help in that area,” offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said. “I think he’s done a really good job so far in preparing for this week, this game. That’s what you rely on. How you go about it, your approach on a day-to-day basis, and it helps with his confidence. And I think he’s certainly moving in the right direction, he’s making some good strides, he’s doing everything in the classroom, being up to speed as far as what we’ll require him to do in a game to be successful and help us be successful. I think he’s moving in the right direction.”
And up front, where the offensive line has book-ended the year in shambles, Thompson can feel reasonably confident in the depth he has assembled with Justin McCray at right tackle and Lucas Patrick at right guard this week.
The offseason can’t come soon enough, even if the Packers won’t admit it.