Olivia Reiner and Ryan Wood discuss Thursday's practice, Darnell Savage's participation and his availability for Sunday's game against the Chiefs. Olivia Reiner, PackersNews
GREEN BAY - When Mike Pettine was unemployed in the months after his departure as the Cleveland Browns' head coach, he took an offseason trip to Kansas City to watch the Chiefs’ organized team activities.
It was the spring of 2016, and the Chiefs had just used a fifth-round pick to draft a receiver named Tyreek Hill. Pettine was at practice to watch the defense, but he couldn’t take his eyes away from the rookie wideout.
“I’ve never seen anybody on an NFL football field that fast before,” said Pettine, who is not prone to exaggeration. “… I was watching the practice, I’m like, ‘Is this a full-speed drill?’ He looks like he was going full speed, and everybody else didn’t. He was instantly on my radar and, sure enough, when the fall rolled around, he exploded on the scene.
“I go, ‘That’s that guy I remember.’ He was a difference maker on the practice field, I think, from the day he got there.”
Now, the Packers must figure out a way to defend the two-time All-Pro receiver Sunday night.
For all the head scratching over whether MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes would play 10 days after dislocating his kneecap (he finally was ruled out Friday), a key reality coach Matt LaFleur has emphasized all week is the Packers must prepare to defend more than a quarterback. They have to contend with an entire, talented offense. Tops on that list might be Hill, the receiver with Olympic-level speed.
Hill, who had 87 catches for 1,479 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, missed the first month of this season with a shoulder injury. He’s yet to truly go off since his return – he’s been held below 100 yards in his past two games, though he did catch three touchdowns – but Pettine knows he could break one to the end zone at any time.
The hardest challenge is preparing for Hill’s pure speed in practice.
“I don’t think there’s much you can do,” Pettine said, “unless we let the receivers line up five yards offside and go. It’s one of the reasons why he has the production that he does. Because I think you practice all week against it, and all of a sudden you get out there, and it’s significantly faster than what you prepared for.”
With backup quarterback Matt Moore likely to play against the Packers, the Chiefs could get creative with Hill to generate more offense.
One possibility would be using Hill as a punt returner. Hill, the NFL’s most dynamic returner since Devin Hester, returned four punts and one kickoff for a touchdown in his first three seasons. If Hill drops back for a return Sunday, the Packers will attempt to limit the potential damage. JK Scott would likely angle his punts toward the sideline, but special teams coordinator Shawn Mennenga said a perfect punt out of bounds is hard to do.
“If it were that easy,” Mennenga said, “everyone would do it. There wouldn’t be a return in the league, but with that also comes you can get a 25-yard mishit, or a 15-yard shank off the side of his foot. So, I mean, we’re obviously going to try to hang the ball up and pin it as close to the sideline as we can, but I think that’s what everybody tries to do. You definitely don’t want to put the ball down the middle and just give him the whole field to return to.
“Definitely a fair catch or him not returning it is the main goal, but sometimes it’s easier said than done.”
Adams doing more at practice
Davante Adams eventually made his way into the Don Hutson Center after stretching at the start of Friday’s practice, but, unlike the previous two days, it wasn’t immediate.
The Packers' top receiver first caught a few passes during individual drills. Adams did not run full speed, but it was more practice activity than he’s done all week.
Adams was listed as doubtful on the injury report Friday.
Adams has said the hardest thing to overcome in his return from a turf toe injury is “pushing off” when he goes to accelerate. To push off, he must dig his foot into the ground, with much of the weight going directly on his injured big toe. Because of this, Adams said, running full-speed routes has been a challenge.
With the difficulty in running full-speed routes, Adams’ availability Sunday would seem to be a long shot. At best, Adams’ availability would seem to be close, a true game-time decision. If it is indeed close, it would seem unlikely for a team that has positioned itself as a legitimate Super Bowl contender to risk further injuring an irreplaceable player in October.
Still, Adams is clearly doing all he can to try to play this week.
“I’m trying every day to get back to where I was,” Adams said, “and I’m just not quite there yet. I feel 2 million times better than what I did, and I’ve made a lot of progress. I got a lot of different things I couldn’t do at this point last week. So as it continues to heal, we’ll have more time, feeling better and better.
“When you tear a ligament, it’s not about toughing it out. Your toe doesn’t respond the same way. If you push off and it bites, or you have a sharp pain, you can’t really fight through that type of feeling.”
Even if he’s unable to play, Adams’ increased practice participation is a promising sign.
Linsley OK to play
A day after he was unable to practice because of a back injury, center Corey Linsley returned Friday.
LaFleur said Linsley’s absence was “totally precautionary” in Thursday’s padded practice. Linsley said he had back spasms, something that’s recurrent but manageable.
“For me, it’s kind of a buildup thing,” Linsley said. “Occasionally this will happen to me, but wanted to get out in front of it and make sure it doesn’t extend into the weekend.”
Linsley said he’s never had back spasms occur in a game, though it is possible. Playing won’t make the injury worse, he said.
He was listed as questionable on the injury report Friday but anticipates playing in Kansas City.
“All good,” Linsley said.
Packers safety Darnell Savage (ankle) also was listed as questionable. Tight end Robert Tonyan (hip) is doubtful.
The Chiefs, meanwhile, will be significantly undermanned.
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes was ruled out, unsurprisingly since he dislocated his kneecap last week. The Chiefs didn’t stop there. Left tackle Eric Fisher, left guard Andrew Wylie, cornerback Kendall Fuller, defensive tackle Chris Jones and edge rusher Frank Clark were all ruled out with injuries.