GREEN BAY - The Green Bay Packers know their Sunday opponent is the Seattle Seahawks, but they’ve been battling an unseen one at 1265 Lombardi Ave. for the better part of a month in the form of an illness that has affected at least five players to the point they had to miss practice.
On Monday, starting right guard Elgton Jenkins was not inside the Don Hutson Center due to the illness, marking the fourth straight week that at least one player was sent home to recover.
Backup offensive lineman Alex Light was the first player to miss a practice due to illness in the last month, on Dec. 19. He returned the next day and practiced the rest of the week in the run-up to the game at Minnesota. Wide receiver Jake Kumerow missed a Friday practice Dec. 27 but traveled to Detroit the next day and played on Sunday.
Last week, left tackle David Bakhtiari and tight end Marcedes Lewis each missed practices Thursday and Friday with an illness.
To date the Packers haven’t had multiple players miss extended time, but it’s something they will be trying to manage and prevent in order to win Sunday against the Seahawks.
“It’s been going around here,” Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said Monday. “So just trying to remind the guys to practice good hygiene so they don’t get sick. We need everybody at their best this weekend in order to advance. I’ve got a lot of respect for coach (Pete) Carroll, he’s been doing it a really long time at a really high level and we know that he'll have his team prepared.”
Offensive line getting healthy
The regular-season finale in Detroit on Dec. 29 was a rough one for the Packers’ starting offensive line. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga suffered a concussion and center Corey Linsley injured his back, and both did not finish the game.
Right guard Billy Turner injured an ankle but gutted it out the rest of the game.
“Unless I physically am not able to walk off that field, I’m going to be out there finishing pretty much every game,” Turner said Monday. “That’s how I am as a person. That’s how I am as a player. That’s how I was raised and how I’ve been throughout the course of my career. I’ve played with a lot of injuries. It’s just kind of second nature to me.”
With backups Lucas Patrick and Jared Veldheer already in at that point at center and right tackle, respectively, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said he didn’t want to think of what they’d have to do to replace Turner had he not been able to finish the game against the Lions.
“That would have been a scramble,” Hackett admitted. “That’s only happened to me one other time. When we were in Jacksonville, we had to get (tight end) Marcedes (Lewis) ready for that. It’s one of those things, in the end, you have to find a way. You have to find a way to get enough guys out there to go play. Whoever we would have thrown out there would have been ready."
On Monday, Bulaga, Linsley and Turner all practiced to some degree — though Bulaga is still working through the concussion protocol. Jenkins missed Monday with an illness.
Bulaga has missed snaps in games against Philadelphia, Kansas City and San Francisco as well as Detroit but did play in all 16 games for the first time since 2016. Linsley also missed time against Dallas, but along with Bakhtiari and Turner played in 16 games. Jenkins also played the entire season, including the last 14 as the starter at left guard.
“It’s a huge advantage, just that continuity,” LaFleur said. “I mean, it’s priceless. Especially when you’re talking about your offensive line. I think it’s definitely been great for us.”
Taking a pass on interference flags
LaFleur has challenged pass interference calls twice this season. Both came in September. He lost both.
Since then, the Packers head coach has pocketed his red challenge flag anytime a controversial call has been made, rather than attempting to maximize the NFL’s new rule allowing for interference penalties to be challenged.
It’s no coincidence LaFleur hasn’t challenged interference since the Packers’ loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 4. In that game, Eagles cornerback Avonte Maddox contacted Packers receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling before Aaron Rodgers’ pass arrived. Maddox stood face to face with Valdes-Scantling, his back to the football, and appeared to lean into the receiver. But there was no penalty.
The game ended with Eagles cornerback Craig James contacting Valdes-Scantling a split second before Rodgers’ pass arrived at the goal line. Rodgers’ pass deflected off Valdes-Scantling and was intercepted by linebacker Nigel Bradham, handing the Packers their first loss of the season.
LaFleur admitted to being “angry” after the game.
“I really don’t know what pass interference is anymore,” LaFleur said.
Since September, opponents have challenged interference calls twice: Dallas and Oakland. On both, the call on the field stood. LaFleur, meanwhile, has been content to let the ruling stand without tossing his challenge flag.
Interference calls became reviewable this season specifically because of a blown call in last year’s NFC championship game between the Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans. In theory, the postseason could mean a more aggressive approach toward reviewing interference calls, with the desperation of win or go home.
LaFleur said he doesn’t expect to change.
“I think it’s going to stay pretty consistent to the mindset and how we’ve approached it throughout the course of the season,” LaFleur said.
Packers veterans happy for McCarthy
Former Packers head coach Mike McCarthy reportedly agreed to terms to be the next head coach of the Dallas Cowboys on Monday, news that was met warmly by some of the veterans in the Packers' locker room who played for him.
“Seems like the ideal job for him,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “For him to get that job is good to see. I was happy for him, like a kid at a candy store. It’s good to see that. He deserves it.”
McCarthy went 125-77-2 in 13 regular seasons for the Packers and 10-8 in the playoffs, including a Super Bowl championship in 2010.
“He’s just a very genuine guy,” defensive tackle Dean Lowry said. “He’s somebody that’s always pushing his players, he tells it how it is and is somebody that every day comes to work the same guy. After a loss, after a win, he’s going to get his guys going. Just a really good person and great coach.”
Receiver signed for next season
The Packers were one of six teams who worked out Canadian Football League receiver Reggie Begelton after a breakout season in which he caught 102 passes for 1,444 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Calgary Stampeders.
On Monday, Begelton picked the Packers over several other offers he received, his agent Derrick Fox said.
Begelton was one of the receivers the New Orleans Saints brought in when they worked out free agent Antonio Brown.
The 6-foot, 200-pound Begelton was signed as a reserve/futures free agent, which means he will become part of the team’s 90-man offseason roster once this season is over. Typically, teams also sign their practice squad players to reserve/future contracts to make sure they hang onto them for next season.
Begelton, 26, caught just 476 passes for 792 yards and two touchdowns during his first two seasons in Calgary, but he excelled this past season, finishing third in the league in receptions.
A walk-on at Lamar, Begelton caught 227 passes for 2,435 yards and 20 touchdowns during his time there.
During his pro day workout at Lamar in 2016, he ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash and registered a 39½-inch vertical jump.
The Packers also signed fullback Elijah Wellman, an undrafted free agent out of West Virginia in 2018. He spent time with Washington in the offseason but was not on a roster this fall.