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Packers looking for more from cornerback Josh Jackson on special teams

GREEN BAY - Once a core member of the special teams units and a five-game fill-in starter on defense, Green Bay Packers cornerback Josh Jackson has been inactive two of the last three weeks, including Saturday night against Carolina.

Jackson missed the Chicago game Nov. 29 because of a concussion suffered the week before, but he was a healthy scratch against Philadelphia on Dec. 6 and a healthy scratch against the Panthers.

Jackson's status this week is up in the air, and his being inactive has to do with special teams.

“When you're talking about maybe the last two spots in the secondary, you're going to put the guys out there that can help you on teams the most,” coach Matt LaFleur said. “So, he's got to make sure that he continues to work in that area, and that thing changes on a weekly basis quite a bit.”

Jackson, a second-round pick in 2018, had filled in adequately for starter Kevin King, who missed five games at midseason due to a thigh injury. He was a special teams regular before, but with his heavy load on defense his snaps on those units went down.

Packers cornerback Josh Jackson (37) defends against Falcons wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus (17) during their Oct. 5 game.

He resumed his usual special teams duties when King returned against Indianapolis, but suffered a concussion and has played just 13 special teams snaps since. The return of linebacker Krys Barnes from the reserve/COVID-19 list and the emergence of outside linebacker Randy Ramsey and safety Henry Black on special teams appears to have cut into Jackson’s work.

“I think it’s just a matter of there’s some other guys that have played well around him and have elevated their game,” special teams coach Shawn Mennenga said. “It’s just a matter of how they’ve practiced during the week or who we think gives us the best opportunity as far as match-ups within that game and position flexibility.”

Black broke through as a regular due to his practice performance and has become a regular on coverage and return units. He was signed to the active roster Dec. 8 and played 17 special teams snaps against the Lions and 16 against the Panthers.

Black’s strength is that he can play multiple positions and isn’t as limited in which teams he can play on as Jackson is.

“The speed he plays with, even in practice, he just practices at great tempo, and really cares and is very detailed in what he does and has done a good job,” Mennenga said. “He shows up in the right spots. He has good vision and good instincts and he’s always around the ball and has a nose for the ball, which is what you’re really looking for in your cover players.”

On deck

Running back Jamaal Williams (thigh) missed a second straight day of practice and remains a question mark for the Titans game Sunday night.

Williams still has time before a final decision is made on his status since the Packers started practice a day early this week to account for an off day on Christmas and will have a heavier-than-normal workout on Saturday as a result.

If Williams can’t play, rookie AJ Dillon should finally see extended action. Then again, it looked like that would be the case against the Panthers when Williams left in the second quarter with his injury.

But Dillon wound up playing just five snaps and carried once for 18 yards.

LaFleur said the circumstances of the game led him to stick solely with Aaron Jones and that it wasn't a lack of confidence in Dillon.

“Just as the game unfolded and got tighter and tighter and tighter, it’s tough to justify taking Aaron Jones off in that situation,” LaFleur said. “I think AJ has a bright future and we’ll do our best to put him in there, but a lot of it is predicated on how the game is going.”

Injury report

Center Corey Linsley, who is on injured reserve with a sprained knee, practiced for a second straight day, but LaFleur said he wanted to wait until the end of the week to decide whether he’ll return to the starting lineup.

Linsley is eligible to return and the fact he took part in a padded practice indicates he’s close to returning.

“I think anytime you have a guy coming off a long layoff like he’s had, you want to give him the week to work through because you’re out there practicing and you don’t know how somebody’s body is going to react,” he said. “So, again, we’ll just let him work through and we will work different combinations throughout practice of different routes we can go because at this moment we really don’t know.”

Sitting out practice was safety Will Redmond (concussion), tight end Jace Sternberger (concussion/illness), defensive tackle Anthony Rush (illness) and tight end Marcedes Lewis (knee).

Running back Aaron Jones was added to the injury report with a toe and outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith had a neck injury added to his ankle and thumb listing. Jones, Smith, outside linebacker Rashan Gary (hip) and cornerback Kevin King (groin) were among the 10 players who were limited.

Pass rush producing

All the early-season emphasis the Packers' defense placed on its floundering pass rush seems to be making a late-season difference. 

The Packers sacked Carolina Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater three times Saturday night, continuing a four-game streak of at least three sacks. Before the streak began, the Packers had three sacks in just four of their first 10 games this season. 

“We just kind of do our thing,” Preston Smith said. “Whether people feel like we’re in a rhythm or not, people respect us. They know what we have up front between me, Kenny (Clark) and Z and Rashan coming on this year, (Kingsley) Keke coming on this year. We’ve got a lot of weapons up front, and guys know, the opposing team and offensive lines know, that you don’t want to let any of us get hot. Because it’s going to be a tough game.” 

Clark charged the defensive front with playing with more disruptiveness midway through the season. He said the Packers have done that lately, but he believes the pass rush still has room to improve. 

Clark specifically mentioned Bridgewater escaping the pocket to pick up 26 yards on four carries. 

“I think we’re getting better,” Clark said. “I don’t think we’re right where we want to be yet, but I think it’s definitely getting better. We’ve been getting a lot more pressures. 

“As far as pass rush, the biggest thing we’ve got to clean up is our rushing lanes and just not getting too pass happy with that, being able to bottle quarterbacks in so they don’t have those rushing lanes that they had last week with Teddy Bridgewater just running everywhere. We can’t play football like that.”