Jim Owczarski and Olivia Reiner discuss the team's health on Friday after Mike McCarthy said they only had 42 confirmed healthy players on Monday. Olivia Reiner, PackersNews
GREEN BAY – In the immediate aftermath of last Sunday’s 24-17 loss at Minnesota, which dropped the Green Bay Packers to 4-6-1 and to 10th in the NFC playoff picture, the players and coaches not only knew they’d have to win out and get some help to keep their postseason hopes alive, but they also were keenly aware of another issue that may arise.
“We’ll see what we’re made of the last five weeks,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said late Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium. “Are we going to stick together in these tough times, or are we going to start splintering? I’d like to think the leadership is in place that we can stick together through whatever happens, but these five weeks will show it.”
And if there was an opportunity for players to dial it back in the interest of self-preservation, perhaps one presented itself this week as Packers head coach Mike McCarthy adjusted the schedule to help his roster get healthier.
Instead, players who were injured Sunday, such as offensive linemen David Bakhtiari and Lane Taylor, worked to return to practice. Wide receiver Randall Cobb also said he felt he’ll be ready to go after missing the last three games with an injured hamstring.
And in terms of the actual physical effort put forth this week, the head coach said the club saw no drop off in the investment his team has made in preparing for Arizona on Sunday.
“I definitely feel the energy,” McCarthy said Friday. “They’ve gotten their bodies back, and the work (Thursday) was really good, especially what we call a split schedule, where we work inside for half the practice and then go outside for the second half of the practice. And that’s always an adjustment getting out there on the grass, the heated field, the surface is always a little different once they clear the snow. So it’s all those little things that get tied up into your evaluation. But, long answer, yes, we feel good about where we are.”
Within the locker room, there has been a noticeable move toward public accountability since an anonymous player was quoted by the National Football League’s website questioning the motivations of former kick returner Ty Montgomery after a loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
That has continued this week as well.
“That’s kind of a thing that we’ve talked about a lot in this locker room, is just accountability,” wide receiver Davante Adams said. “So a guy knows that if he should make a certain throw or make a block or whatever it is, it’s something that we’ve been more vocal about, making sure everybody is taking ownership for it. It takes a man to be able to step up and say that."
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Ultimately the team must play well on Sundays, but these Monday-through-Saturday intangibles have them feeling like they can, at the very least, make the most of the final five games of the season.
“I look around at the guys in this locker room, I see the guys that we have, I know what we're capable of,” Bakhtiari said. “And it just comes down to putting the pieces together and taking the onus on ourselves. I think there is a lot of, on the outside, a lot of fingers pointing a lot of different directions and if you were to ask me what we need to do I think we need to take that finger and we need to point it at ourselves. No one needs to point any other direction. We need to figure out ourselves what we need to do to win. Don't look at someone else as a scapegoat. We've got to take onus, myself included.
“We all gotta play better. We have to, at the end of the day, make sure the score, our number is higher than the opposing team."
Bakhtiari worked more than anticipated Thursday, perhaps opening the door further for him to play against the Cardinals.
“He’s improving each and every day,” McCarthy said. “So, we’ll see what today brings and hopefully he’ll do more work (Saturday).”
Jimmy Graham, who played with a broken thumb against Minnesota, has also improved. McCarthy said the tight end was ahead of where he was just a week ago.
Starting safety Kentrell Brice, however, remains in the concussion protocol. He was ruled out Friday, as were defensive tackle Mike Daniels (foot), safety Raven Greene (ankle), returner Trevor Davis (hamstring) and running back Tra Carson (rib). Listed as questionable were Bakhtiari (knee), cornerback Bashaud Breeland (groin), Cobb (hamstring), cornerback Kevin King (hamstring) and Taylor (quadriceps)
Kick return game in flux
Special teams coordinator Ron Zook felt he finally had a bit of stability with one element of his group when Davis came off injured reserve just before the Seattle game. But Davis aggravated his hamstring in Minnesota, sending running Jamaal Williams into emergency kick return duty and Tramon Williams back on punt return.
Jamaal Williams said it was the first time he'd returned kicks.
“Never. That ain’t my thing,” Jamaal Williams said. “I’m used to being back there because I’m just one dude behind the returner and I practice kickoff returns and always catch just in case the kicker is going to kick to us. You’re always ready. It felt the same as it always do. It was just some spot-of-the-moment thing. I was like, you know, lemme just go ‘head and do it for the team. But that’s not my thing no more.”
Zook offered no hints as to who might be able to return kicks, though he did say if Jake Kumerow is activated off injured reserve this week that he could fill that role against Arizona. Zook said Josh Jackson, Jaire Alexander or Tony Brown could spell Tramon Williams on punt return.
Looney gets the call
Walking off the practice field last Saturday, just before the Packers made the brief trip to Minneapolis, rookie defensive tackle James Looney got the word that he would be promoted off the practice squad to the 53-man roster.
“I was just so excited, called my mom right away, told her, called my girlfriend, called my brother (Dallas offensive lineman Joe) and he was just like man, I’m proud of you James, just keep on working, stay on track and just keep God first,” Looney said.
A seventh-round pick out of California, Looney was active for the game but saw just one defensive snap. The next goal for the rookie is to work his way into a regular rotation. The Packers are without starter Daniels, so Looney was promoted to add some depth.
“I’m definitely starting to get a hang of it, starting to get the groove,” Looney said. “We’ve got a great strength staff here too, getting in there extra and I feel I’ve definitely developed my body. It’s been good, man. Coach (Jerry) Montgomery staying on me, he’s a tough coach, a very tough coach. He critiques me hard. When I was on the scout team always making sure I was getting those extra reps. It’s paying off, man. It's converted to what I’m doing now that I’m up.”