Packers notes: Running back Aaron Jones being eased back into practice

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GREEN BAY - If it were already September, Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones believes the hamstring tightness that cost him a week of camp would not have forced him to miss a game.

Jones, the third-year tailback, stressed he only felt tightness in his hamstring, and that he would not qualify the issue as an injury. He said he tried to persuade the Packers' medical staff to let him continue practicing but, being early August, the decision was made to hold him out of joint practices against the Houston Texans and Thursday’s preseason open for precautionary reasons.

It would not be Jones’ call to play in a regular-season game, if this were September. Jones does not believe that would be an issue.

“They would’ve cleared me,” he said.

Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) and head coach Matt LaFleur during practice at Clarke Hinkle Field on Tuesday, June 11, 2019 in Ashwaubenon, Wis.

The Packers are continuing to be cautious with Jones. He was held out of team drills Saturday. It’s unclear – and perhaps doubtful – whether he’ll play Thursday night at Baltimore.

“We’re going to be pretty smart about it,” coach Matt LaFleur said, adding he’ll rely on the Packers' medical team to integrate Jones back into practice.

Fullback depth put to test

When Danny Vitale walked off early in practice, coach Matt LaFleur had to adjust his practice plan.

Vitale left the field with a trainer after warm-ups with a left calf injury and did not return. It left LaFleur in a tough spot because his other fullback, Malcolm Johnson, injured his groin in the Houston game Thursday night and was not available.

LaFleur changed things up.

“Oh yeah, we did,” he said. “That’s the other thing we talked about, ‘Hey, you’re going to face some adversity at some time, and you can’t blink, you just have to move on and handle that accordingly.’

“So, we ran a lot more 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends), changed the script a little bit, put some 11 personnel (one back, one tight end) in there and just adjusted. That’s life in this league, right?”

It’s possible general manager Brian Gutekunst will have to bring in a fullback because LaFleur likes to use them in his running game and practicing without one doesn’t help the offense. LaFleur said he has used tight ends in a fullback role before and would cross-train some of the ones he has here, but it didn’t sound like it was a long-term solution.

“Last year (at Tennessee), you saw what we did with a guy like Luke Stocker, who was attached a lot and then he’d wind up in the backfield,” LaFleur said. “If you have a guy like that, certainly you’ll use him.”

Late Saturday afternoon, the Packers announced they have released wide receiver Jawill Davis, likely so as to add a fullback.

Bolton getting his shot after Burks injury

It took three years for Curtis Bolton to get his shot at Oklahoma, working through special teams and the linebacking depth chart from 2015-17 before finally seeing the field for 14 starts last year for the Sooners. He finished No. 22 in the country in tackles per game (9.9) and had 13 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.

An undrafted free agent signing by the Packers, the 6-foot, 228-pound linebacker isn’t waiting around to impress the front office and coaches. At the start of camp he had slid quickly into second team-reps at weakside linebacker next to James Crawford.

On Saturday, with Oren Burks having suffered a chest injury Thursday against Houston (ESPN cited a source saying it could be a potentially season-ending torn pectoral muscle, but that more tests were needed), it was Bolton who got the call to line up next to Blake Martinez on the first-team defense.

“I’m putting in the hard work and slowly progressing into more and more opportunities to show myself,” Bolton said. “I don’t think I’ve earned anything yet.  I think it’s too early to jump the gun and say that I’ve earned my spot on this team, but I think I’ve taken steps in the right direction. I was still a little banged up in this game. I only played the first half. But I’m feeling a lot better and now I’ve got three games to really show what I can do and show how I can contribute to this team. It feels good when the coaching staff makes decisions that result in me getting more play time, whether that even be in practice. I’m not even solely talking about the game. It just feels to good to know that my hard work is being noticed and I’m going to try and continue to make plays, continue to make a difference and stand out on film and just try to get everything I’ve been working for.”

A groin injury slowed Bolton the week the Texans were in town, and he missed the Monday practice before the game Thursday. In his half of game action he played 23 snaps and finished with two tackles and a pass defensed. The analytical company Pro Football Focus rated him as the top defensive player for the Packers, with a 90.6 grade. 

After Saturday’s practice Bolton said he felt at full speed and is looking forward to continuing to show out in a competitive inside linebackers room.

“It just feels good to have coaches that at the end of the day they want to win football games, and to win football games you got to put the best players out there. And at that point, my destiny is my hands,” Bolton. “So now at that point I can control myself, just with how I play. If I play good I’m going to be on this roster and that’s just how the bottom line is. I genuinely believe that. So going into the next three games that’s my mental.”

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