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Packers special teams mainstay John Lovett lost for season after ACL injury

GREEN BAY - Green Bay Packers tight end John Lovett will miss the rest of the 2020 season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in practice Thursday.

The injury was unrelated to a knee issue he had been playing through, according to a league source.

“What an unfortunate circumstance and just something you don’t really see very often, obviously in practice,” head coach Matt LaFleur said Friday. “It’s like the stars were aligned, man, in order for that to happen and it’s really unfortunate because you talk about a guy that will do anything for the football team. The intensity that he brings, the effort, the energy, he is all about the team. I feel just sick about it.

"Certainly you start to question yourself in terms of what you’re asking guys to do when something like this happens but also realize that it is part of the game. I don’t think it’s anybody’s fault. It’s just really unfortunate because his impact was really coming along I think in both phases, on special teams and on offense. I know we didn’t use him as much on the offensive side of the ball but you’re talking about a four-core starter on special teams. And those types of players are really tough to replace.”

Lovett, 24, began the year on the practice squad but had played in all eight games and developed into a core special teamer, playing 112 snaps.

Green Bay Packers' John Lovett (45) celebrates after making a stop on special teams against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, in Tampa, Fla.

“He’s definitely a sparkplug for us and has developed into a good leader and plays hard, extremely hard, in every phase and has the right mentality that we’re looking for special teams,” special teams coordinator Shawn Mennenga said Thursday.

A former college quarterback who spent 2019 on injured reserve in Kansas City after converting to tight end, Lovett was claimed by the Packers off waivers at the start of training camp. While conceptually a player who can play tight end, fullback and H-back can play a big role in head coach Matt LaFleur’s offense, Lovett played only 45 snaps on offense (8.5%) and carried the ball three times for six yards.

Lovett is the second multi-purpose offensive player to be lost for the season, as rookie Josiah Deguara was lost for the year with a knee injury against Atlanta in October.

Jaire Alexander, Kevin King uncertain

The Packers head into Sunday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars with the availability of their starting cornerbacks unknown.

Jaire Alexander, who has been in concussion protocol since his second-quarter exit from the 49ers game, is listed as doubtful against the Jaguars. He was present during the stretching portion of Friday’s practice for the first time all week; however, he did not participate in individual and team drills. He was ultimately listed as a limited participant.

Kevin King (quadriceps) was a limited participant in practice all week and is questionable to play against the Jaguars. The cornerback has missed the past four games in his contract year. LaFleur said King is “improving every day,” but wouldn’t put a percentage on how close King is to full health.

Left tackle David Bakhtiari (chest) was removed from the final injury report and is available to play against the Jaguars. He practiced at full capacity all week after missing the last three games.

Wide receiver Allen Lazard and inside linebacker Christian Kirksey are eligible to come off of injured reserve this week, but the team could wait until early next week to do so. Both had been consistent attendees at practice since Oct. 26 until today, when Lazard was not present.

While neither player can be listed on the injury report, LaFleur said Lazard is questionable to play in Sunday’s game. Kirksey, LaFleur added, will be a game-time decision. Each must be designated to return Saturday to be eligible to play against the Jaguars.

Tight end Robert Tonyan (ankle) popped up on the injury report Thursday as a limited participant in practice and did not practice Friday. He is questionable for Sunday. In addition to Tonyan and King, safety Will Redmond (shoulder), safety Vernon Scott (shoulder), wide receiver Darrius Shepherd (shoulder), wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown (knee) and tackle Rick Wagner (knee) are listed as questionable.

Jackson trying to find a balance

Cornerback Josh Jackson was thrust into action when King injured a quadriceps in the first half against Atlanta on Oct. 5 and has started the last four games. He has made 21 tackles and broken up one pass.

With Alexander working his way through the concussion protocol and King having just returned to a full week of practice, Jackson is likely to again see major snaps Sunday.

“It’s been filled with just a lot of work, a lot of focus and trying to just be the next man up, step up and just come in and not have the standards drop,” Jackson said. “So just trying to come in and make sure I’m prepared so I can come in and make sure the defense is still operating the correct way.”

The 6-foot, 196-pound corner was a second-round pick in 2018 out of Iowa and this has been his most significant playing time since he started 10 games his rookie season. According to several analytic sites, Jackson has played well on balance. Pro Football Focus said Jackson is tied for seventh in the NFL by allowing just 0.60 yards per coverage snap (Alexander is tied for fifth at 0.57). Sports Info Solutions notes Jackson is allowing a career-best 6.1 yards per target while allowing a completion percentage against him of 62.5%.

By comparison, Alexander has allowed 4.4 yards per target and a 41% completion percentage against and King has allowed 8.5 yards per target and a 61.5% completion percentage against.

“The big thing is that he’s been in meeting rooms more, he’s asking more questions, he’s being more vocal, he understands that I can’t just sit back and be a backup because you never know what’s going to happen in this league,” Packers secondary coach Jerry Gray said. “You’ve got to have three or four good corners, and that’s the mindset you want the guys to be in. And you always want them to think, you know you’re not a backup, you’re a starter, it’s just that you have to wait your time when you’re not starting the game. And I see him being more proactive and understanding what we’re trying to get from him. Hey look, we want to win football games when you’re out there. It’s not, we don’t have Kevin, we don’t have ‘Jai’ and we’re going to settle for a loss. We’re not going to do that.”

Jaguars head in on losing skid

LaFleur has tried to keep his team’s focus sharp this week by noting the Jaguars have played Houston and Tennessee close, but after a 27-20 Week 1 victory over Indianapolis the Jaguars have lost seven straight games.

They have played three, one-possession games but have also lost by 10 or more points four times in that stretch. The offense is No. 26 in scoring and No. 21 overall, but one thing they are decent at is converting on third down – they are eighth in the NFL at 46.1%.

Defensively they are No. 31 in the league and No. 31 in scoring defense. One bright spot is that they are ninth in red-zone scoring defense (57.6%) – but opponents have scored nine touchdowns of 20 yards or more.

“We’ve got a young team, a young defense,” Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone said. “Those guys, a lot of them didn’t get any work. We’re just trying to get them better each every day. Obviously, the statistics are poor. That’s why we’re sitting where we are right now. We’re just going to keep trying to get these guys better.”

They come in with rookie Jake Luton under center, but behind an intact and respectable offensive line and paired with rookie running back James Robinson, who is averaging 4.4 yards per carry and is on pace for a 1,000-yard season. He has five rushing touchdowns.

Luston, a sixth-round pick out of Oregon State went 26-for-38 for 304 yards with a touchdown and an interception against Houston in his debut last week. Starter Gardner Minshew II suffered a thumb injury against the Los Angeles Chargers on Oct. 25.

Final vote tally

More than 4,000 people voted at the Johnsonville Tailgate Village adjacent to Lambeau Field on election day, the NFL announced.

Approximately 144,000 people voted in Brown County.

Half of the NFL teams used their stadiums or facilities to promote voting and a number of them were used as early-voting or election-day polling sites. All told, 65,000 voters cast ballots at NFL sites, the league said.