Outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith questionable for Eagles game with ankle injury
GREEN BAY - Although outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith missed Friday’s practice after reaggravating a right ankle injury, Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said he’s “not overly concerned” about Smith’s health.
Smith is listed as questionable to play heading into Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles. The veteran edge rusher had been listed on the injury report throughout the first half of the season until he was removed before Week 8 against the Minnesota Vikings.
“It is something he's been battling through all season,” LaFleur said. “And it's just like anything, some days are better than others. So we held him out today and we'll see where he's at on Sunday.”
Also likely to play is right guard Lucas Patrick, who sustained a toe injury against the Chicago Bears and didn’t return to the game. Despite being a limited participant in practice all week, Patrick was removed from the final injury report and will be available against the Eagles.
The offensive line will still roll out a different starting combination. Center Corey Linsley (knee) has been ruled out and is expected to miss 2-6 weeks with a sprained left medial collateral ligament. When Linsley left the Bears game with the injury, starting left guard Elgton Jenkins slid over to center and Jon Runyan Jr. replaced Jenkins at left guard.
LaFleur did not reveal the offensive line starters for Sunday.
The Packers are eyeing the return of running back and return specialist Tyler Ervin, who missed the last two games with a ribs injury. Ervin is listed as questionable after practicing in a limited capacity all week.
Inside linebacker Krys Barnes (calf), who came off of COVID-19 reserve Wednesday, is also listed as questionable.
The Eagles are poised to welcome back tight end Zach Ertz (ankle) to the game-day roster Sunday. He spent the past six weeks on injured reserve and has been removed from the injury report. Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (neck), who did not practice Wednesday or Thursday, has also been removed from the injury report. Cornerback Darius Slay (calf) is listed as questionable to play, but Eagles head coach Doug Pederson told Philadelphia media Friday he’s “hopeful” Slay will be available.
MVS' improvement evident
Even with his drops and fumble this season, Packers receivers coach Jason Vrabel said no receiver has improved more this season than Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
With five games left, Valdes-Scantling's 518 yards are already more than his 452 from last season. He has caught 25 passes, only one fewer than all of 2019. His four touchdowns this season are as many as he had combined in his first two seasons.
There have been a fair share of mistakes this season. Valdes-Scantling has dropped third-down passes when open in multiple games, and his overtime fumble in Indianapolis cost the Packers a victory. But Vrabel said he has been impressed with how the third-year receiver has overcome his bad plays to give the Packers' offense a consistent threat in the passing game.
"I think of all the guys in the room," Vrabel said, "I'm most proud of him and how he's responded this year. The ups and downs, he's trying to get rid of the downs, but he's working his butt off. He's barely missed a single rep in practice, and if you look at his reps in the game, he runs deep on 30 plays in a game full speed and never once loafs. And he competes his butt off.
"Of all the guys in the room, I think he's taken the biggest strides since last year."
Vrabel said Valdes-Scantling has done an especially good job of eliminating mental mistakes. He's also been impressed with Valdes-Scantling's conditioning, considering how many deep routes he runs each game.
After a 2019 season that couldn't have gone much worse, Vrabel said Valdes-Scantling has gotten back on the right track this fall.
"When all is said and done," Vrabel said, "he's going to be one of those receivers around the league that people know about and respect, if he continues trending upward."
Emergency QB roulette
On Sunday, Denver played New Orleans without an actual quarterback due to one positive COVID-19 test and the rest of the quarterbacks being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list as high risk, close contacts. They lost 31-3.
LaFleur has said the Packers' protocols to keep Aaron Rodgers, Tim Boyle and Jordan Love safe have enabled them to avoid instituting any special measures, such as quarantining any of them.
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“We’ve been together the whole time,” Love said Monday on "Clubhouse Live," a USA TODAY-Wisconsin-produced show. “We started out just being in the quarterback room and following the guidelines; everyone was spaced out because the room was big enough, but now with all the stuff going on, everybody’s been moved to the big team room. That’s kind of where we have the quarterbacks meetings so something like what happened in Denver doesn’t happen to us.”
But, LaFleur has taken a look at the roster to see who might to able to take snaps if the room ever were compromised.
“You know, that is something that I've definitely put a lot of thought into just in case something like that were to ever occur and those are discussions that we'll continue to have,” LaFleur said. “But certainly guys that have past quarterbacking experience usually go to the top of the list.”
Tight end Robert Tonyan played 11 games at quarterback for Indiana State in 2013 before moving to wide receiver and linebacker Kamal Martin originally committed to Eastern Michigan to play quarterback before electing to play defense at Minnesota. No doubt other players played some quarterback in high school as well.
“To say it would be Bobby, I think that's a little soon to say but we will have a plan for that,” LaFleur said of who an emergency quarterback may be.