GREEN BAY – When the 2018 season opened against the Chicago Bears, Justin McCray was the Green Bay Packers’ starting right guard.
It didn’t go well.
The Bears trashed coach Mike McCarthy’s early game plan with defensive tackle Akiem Hicks doing much of the damage. The powerful but still raw McCray got schooled in the first half as the Bears rushed out to a 17-0 lead.
McCray settled down in the second half, receiving more help on Hicks than he did in the first, and the Packers rallied for a 24-23 victory. But McCray never really got over his rough start and after a shoulder issue sidelined him, veteran Byron Bell took over his spot for good.
On Wednesday, the Packers put Bell (knee) on injured reserve, putting McCray back in the same spot he was in Week 1. To fill Bell’s spot, the Packers signed Nico Siragusa off Baltimore’s practice squad, but he isn’t going to be ready to play right away.
The 6-foot, 4-inch Siragusa was a fourth-round pick of the Ravens in 2017 but has yet to appear in a regular-season game.
“Byron’s made a real valuable contribution to the ball club,” Packers interim head coach Joe Philbin said of Bell. “It’s tough for players. They want to play and when that happens, it’s difficult for them. Yeah, I mean, Justin, like I said, as a coach, when you go to bed at night, you kind of think about, you know, the players on your team and the faith that you have in the guys and the competitiveness of the men on your team. And this guy’s a competitor, he battles every single play, and I think as a coach, you appreciate that, you respect that. So yeah, we’ll see. He did some good things in the game.”
OPPONENT PREVIEW: Bears' defense dominant
McCray knows whose job it is to block Hicks and what is expected of him.
“I’m still trying to prove myself to this locker room, this team, this fan base,” McCray said. “It means the same thing as every week; every week I’m trying to perform like an all-pro player, just make sure everyone in the building, around this town, has faith in me.”
McCray considers Hicks one of the best players he has faced, but he blames himself for the hurt the Bears lineman put on the Packers.
He gave up a sack and a pressure and committed two holding penalties, one of which negated a 48-yard completion to running Ty Montgomery. He and center Corey Linsley collided on a stunt that freed Ray Robertson-Harris on the sack in which quarterback Aaron Rodgers injured his left knee, although it was more Linsley’s fault than his.
McCray knows he’s going to have to block Hicks one-on-one more than half the time and if he doesn’t hold his own, the Packers are in trouble. They’ll have enough to worry about with backup Jason Spriggs likely starting for injured Bryan Bulaga (knee) and having to block Khalil Mack.
“We have certain plays in the game plan, but we’re not going to change our whole offense because of one player,” Linsley said. “They have a great defense, they have a great front seven and they’re deserving of the attention that they get.
“We just have to go out and compete and do our deal.”
McCray said it will all come down to him playing like he knows he can.
“The early part of the last game was more on me,” he said. “No discredit to him (Hicks), he’s a great player, but it was more me not being fundamentally sound and doing things that I usually don’t do. After I regained myself and got back to doing what I do, I think I did better.”
Sunday will mark a second chance.
Bulaga missed all of practice Wednesday and the likelihood of him playing Sunday isn’t good.
Also sitting out for the Packers was nose tackle Kenny Clark (elbow), tight end Jimmy Graham (knee/thumb) and cornerback Bashaud Breeland (not injury related).
Guard Lane Taylor (ankle) practiced and said he felt a lot better than a week ago when he was forced to miss the Atlanta game.
London unlikely in 2019
The NFL released the five home teams for its 2019 International Series games in England and Mexico on Wednesday, which includes the Los Angeles Chargers (who will host the Packers next season). It was thought that the Packers might finally head to London to play in their first international contest, as the Chargers are playing in a temporary home venue at the StubHub Center. But, those familiar with the Packers’ planning for next year – teams know about a year in advance of a trip to map out logistics – believe the club is not headed overseas.
The NFL typically announces the actual games and locations for the International Series in April. The Los Angeles Rams and Chargers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders will host internationally in 2019.
To date only the Packers and Carolina Panthers have yet to play internationally. The Houston Texans have played in Mexico City, but not London. Tampa Bay surrendered a home game to play in London next season, increasing the likelihood of the Panthers making their first trip abroad.
That would leave the Packers as the only team in the league to not have participated in the series since the NFL began playing in London in 2007 and Mexico City in 2016.
Rooney Rule amended
In their search for a head coach, the Packers will now have to interview a minority candidate who comes from outside of the organization or a coach who is on the NFL’s career development advisory panel.
In a league meeting Wednesday, the NFL amended the rule so that teams could not just fulfill the requirement of interviewing at least one minority candidate by speaking to someone already within the organization.