GREEN BAY – When Randall Cobb went through a pregame workout Sunday night on the field in Minnesota, he said it was the first time in weeks he has been able to run full speed without pain.
The Green Bay Packers wanted to give their veteran receiver an extra week to heal, but Cobb appears poised to play Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, barring a setback. He has missed six of the team’s 11 games this season, including the last three.
“It would be great to get Randall back,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “I think today will give us some information.”
Cobb practiced Thursday in the Packers' non-padded session inside the Don Hutson Center. Cobb said after practice he continues to be without pain, but remains cautiously optimistic.
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He previously returned from a hamstring injury after the bye week in October. Cobb played 24 snaps (46 percent) in Los Angeles, 56 snaps (76 percent) in New England, then tore his hamstring again in a Thursday practice the following week.
“Obviously, I didn’t (know I wasn’t healthy yet) before,” Cobb said, “because I thought I was and I think I might have pushed myself to come back a little too early, and reinjured it obviously. But I really do feel really good right now. I think that we’ve taken the proper steps, and hopefully this is the right time and I’ll be able to push through this.”
The Packers also appear to be getting healthier on the defense’s perimeter.
Cornerbacks Kevin King (hamstring) and Bashaud Breeland (groin) practiced Thursday in a non-padded session inside the Don Hutson Center. King, who has missed three straight games since being injured in an early-November trip to New England, practiced for the second straight time this week. Breeland did not practice Wednesday, but did individual drills early Thursday.
“Kevin’s a little … further ahead,” McCarthy said.
Only five Packers players did not practice Thursday: receiver/return specialist Trevor Davis (hamstring), safety Kentrell Brice (ankle, concussion), running back Tra Carson (rib), safety Raven Greene (ankle) and defensive lineman Mike Daniels (foot).
Aaron Rodgers’ weekly media session had a very 2016 feel.
That’s the last time the Packers quarterback’s quality of play has been so openly questioned. Rodgers even dusted off some of the same retorts he used early that season, saying he’s “two-time all-USA Fundamental Team” and even has the “big helmets in my office” to prove it.
“I don't put a lot of weight,” Rodgers said, “into a pundit on ESPN talking about fundamentals. I listen to my quarterback coach and my offensive coordinator and my head coach. My study of myself, I'm very critical of my own film. I'm not playing any differently, fundamental-wise.
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“You can't have it both ways. You can't love it when it's a certain way and then critique it when it's the other way."
Yep, very familiar. Rodgers has said similar refrains in the past.
On Thursday, longtime teammate Cobb sure sounded like a receiver who has a feeling about what his quarterback might do Sunday against the Cardinals.
“I’m excited to get back out there,” Cobb said, “because I know with all the noise that’s been said over the past week about him, he’s getting ready to light everybody up this week. It’s going to be a lot of fun, and I look forward to helping him out.”
With Trevor Davis (hamstring) sidelined again and Bashaud Breeland fighting a groin injury, special teams coach Ron Zook is looking for a kick returner.
Last week, he used running back Jamaal Williams after Davis left the game, but asked if he might consider wide receiver Jake Kumerow, Zook was emphatic.
“Definitely,” Zook said.
Kumerow is still on injured reserve but the Packers activated the designated to return option on him and could put him on the 53-man roster for the Cardinals on Sunday. Kumerow’s two-week practice window where he doesn’t count against the roster began Nov. 21.
“We've had him back there both spots working,” Zook said. “I've got some history with Jake so I know what he can do. He's raring to go, I know that.”
Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin tempered his enthusiasm on Kumerow’s return to receiver, noting that he hasn’t played a game since the middle of August and only has five practices under his belt during the past 3½ months.
“He does look good,” Philbin said.
Zook said it’s possible Tramon Williams will continue returning punts, but he’s also considering cornerbacks Josh Jackson and Tony Brown. Williams has lost a fumble and a muff in the 20 times he has handled the ball as a returner.
The question didn’t even have to be asked to safety Josh Jones, he brought it up himself.
The second-year safety felt he let the defense down.
“I played terrible,” Jones said. “That wasn’t the true me. It was an alter ego or something.”
Jones missed tackles and failed to make a play on a long pass he should have broken up in the Packers’ 24-14 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. He has gradually gained more playing time, partially the result of safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix being traded to Washington, and gained enough trust that he played 57 of 70 snaps Sunday night.
This week, he’s preparing to start against Arizona because Kentrell Brice is in the concussion protocol and also dealing with an injured left ankle. The Packers are going to need more from Jones during their final five games.
“It’s all about how you respond,” Jones said. “That’s what makes you a great person, how you respond to things that happen to you. This is the NFL and I’m in Year 2, I know not every rep is going to be perfect. But it’s all about improving, about learning from your mistakes.”
One of the reasons Jones played so much at safety is that the coaches wanted Williams at nickel corner against the Vikings.
Williams played safety in the few snaps of base defense the Packers played, but played in the slot in the nickel package. With Brice ailing, it’s possible Williams could play more safety, but it’s clear the Packers want to use him at his best position if at all possible.
“We’re just trying to play the best 11 that we have,” defensive passing coordinator Joe Whitt said. “He’s one of our best 11 players, so we’re going to put him out there.
“But that’s stuff that other teams — everybody will spin their nickel, they’ll do different things with it. But before last week he was at the safety primarily. Last week we moved him back to the nickel.”