GREEN BAY - A team has arrived at a good place with its injury report when the biggest question three days before kickoff isn’t whether a player will be available, but if a player will need a knee brace.
With all 53 players on their roster practicing this week, that’s where the Packers are as they enter Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Rams. There were no changes to the injury report Thursday, as the Packers didn't practice.
Their most pressing medical question is whether quarterback Aaron Rodgers can finally shed the brace he has worn around his left knee since injuring it Week 1.
Rodgers appeared to wear a small brace under his gray sweatpants during Wednesday’s padded practice, but that doesn’t mean he’ll wear it Sunday.
“It’s a medical decision,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “That’s really something that each player works through each week based on how they progress, what they need for practice and what they need for the game.”
Rodgers has said his preference is to not wear a brace, but only if his knee is completely healed.
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The Packers otherwise should have their full complement of players, meaning McCarthy will have the chore of leaving seven healthy players inactive Sunday. While Randall Cobb, Geronimo Allison and cornerback Jaire Alexander (groin) are expected to play, veteran cornerback Bashaud Breeland (hamstring) could also make his debut.
“How we use him,” McCarthy said, “we’ll see what Sunday brings. But it’s good to add him into the mix and part of the plan.”
Despite two bad penalties in his first three games, the Packers are giving undrafted rookie Tony Brown a third chance.
Brown had an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that extended a Detroit Lions drive in the second half. He then had another 15-yard penalty after pushing San Francisco 49ers kick returner Richie James out of bounds.
Brown, who played at Alabama, has the physical athleticism to be an intriguing prospect. At 6-0 and 199 pounds, he ran a 4.35-second 40 at the NFL scouting combine. He was a member of the Crimson Tide, earning All-American honors in the 4-by-400 meter relay.
“Tony’s a very talented guy,” special teams coordinator Ron Zook said. “He can run, he’s big. You don’t find many corners his size that can run the way he can. But once again, he hadn't played a lot of football. And so every day he's out there, the thing I love about him is that he's like a sponge. He asked a question today in a meeting and it kind of just blew me away, which means he's thinking. He's thinking football and it's important to him.
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“He's made some rookie mistakes, some mistakes that a lot of them do. But I like his attitude, I like his toughness and he gets excited and likes to play the game.”
All of that is reason for the Packers to exercise patience. Regardless, there’s a limit on how many bad penalties a team can endure from one player.
McCarthy said Brown’s penalty in Detroit was “poor, very poor in judgment” and pointed to the rookie’s $10,026 fine. After watching the video, McCarthy said “it’s close” with Brown’s penalty against the 49ers, noting he first contacted James before the sideline.
“At that point in time,” McCarthy said, “you’re in that grey area. I think Tony will learn from that one.”
Even being granted a third chance, Brown said he knows he can’t count on patience from the team. It’s time to eliminate such penalties, he said.
“The flag is what it was,” Brown said, “and I learned from it. it’s black and white, and you can’t do that. You can’t push a guy out of bounds. You can't get even close. So I just learn from that and understand that it is black and white. I don’t think about the gray area, because that just allows you to make that mistake again.”
Aside from some miscommunication inside the red zone, Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said nothing has frustrated him through the season’s first six games like the explosive plays his defense has allowed.
The Packers' defense has strung together stretches of solid play. When they’ve struggled, it’s usually been because of big pass plays – especially down the middle of the field. The Packers have allowed four touchdown passes of at least 30 yards in four games, including 67- and 30-yard touchdown passes to 49ers receiver Marquise Goodwin in their last outing.
“That’s certainly a source of frustration,” Pettine said, “because they’re – some of them are technical issues, some of them are schematic. But those are plays, I mean, it’s the NFL. We’ve got to make them. That’s the difference between good defenses and great ones.
“If you can force teams to drive the length of the field on you – and I’ve never been a proponent of bend but don’t break, I don’t believe in that – but you’ve got to force teams, if they’re going to score, to drive the length of the field. You can’t give them easy, chunk plays, and unfortunately we’ve given up too many.”