Packers' depth being put to test by players landing on COVID-19 list

GREEN BAY - The Green Bay Packers added two more players to their reserve/COVID-19 list, but they are still nowhere near the kind of epidemic that has flattened teams such as the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns. 

The Packers now have 12 players on the reserve/COVID-19 list after tight end Marcedes Lewis and inside linebacker Oren Burks were added Tuesday. 

Of those 12, only Lewis and receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling are starters. Four of their players on the list are either on the practice squad or on injured reserve. 

So, while their reserves are being whittled away, their starting lineup isn’t decimated. 

Coach Matt LaFleur has said he may conduct all meetings virtually this week and have the players gather only for practice to minimize contact with each other. The players had Tuesday off and return Wednesday to begin preparations for the Minnesota Vikings. 

Losing Lewis is a blow because with temperatures expected to be in the single digits Sunday night, it’s presumed the Packers will run the ball a considerable amount. Lewis is their best blocking tight end and a major cog in their running attack. 

Packers tight end Marcedes Lewis (89) makes a reception for a short gain during a November game against the Seahawks.

The NFL announced Tuesday that it was lowering the requirement for quarantine from 10 to five days for those who test positive for COVID-19 and are asymptomatic. That means everyone on the COVID list who isn’t on injured reserve could be back in time for the Vikings game. 

But it’s not known who is asymptomatic and who is symptomatic. 

The Packers should get receiver Valdes-Scantling back. Even if he was symptomatic, he is eligible to return Friday provided he passes some non-COVID tests. 

If Lewis can’t play, Dominique Dafney, Josiah Deguara and Tyler Davis will have to share the tight end duties. All three play a significant amount because LaFleur likes to rotate his tight ends and often uses two on the field at the same time. 

Defensive coordinator Joe Barry could have some depth problems at linebacker. On the outside, he’s down to Preston Smith, Rashan Gary and Jonathan Garvin. 

Among the four practice squad players general manager Brian Gutekunst protected from being poached to another team’s 53-man roster are linebackers Ray Wilborn and Peter Kalambayi, both of whom can help on special teams and fill in at any linebacker spot in a pinch. 

It wouldn’t be surprising to see those two elevated for game day.  

Here is the list of Packers players on reserve/ COVID-19 and the date they were put there:

Dec. 28: TE Marcedes Lewis, ILB Oren Burks 

Dec. 27: G Ben Braden, OLB Tipa Galeai, WR Amari Rodgers, ILB Ty Summers (injured reserve), DE R.J. McIntosh (practice squad) and OLB Chauncey Rivers (injured reserve). 

Dec. 25: CB Shemar Jean-Charles, CB Kevin King and OLB La’Darius Hamilton (practice squad). 

 Dec. 21: WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling 

Nathanial Hackett a candidate for Jaguars job

Once the offensive coordinator in Jacksonville, Nathaniel Hackett is now a candidate to replace the fired Urban Meyer as head coach there. 

Hackett, LaFleur’s offensive coordinator, was one of at least eight coaches or former coaches who were named as people the Jaguars would like to interview. Jacksonville would have to receive permission from the Packers to interview Hackett during the regular season, but would be able to interview him without restriction either before wild-card weekend or immediately after, depending on a team’s playoff status.

Vikings' Dalvin Cook a threat in the Nick Chubb mold

If you ask LaFleur what went wrong with the Packers' tackling against the Cleveland Browns, he’ll read off a laundry list of things. 

He'll point to the Browns' scheme, Nick Chubb’s performance and a lack of attention from his defense. 

“We've got a lot of reasons as to why it wasn't good enough,” LaFleur said Monday. 

“You got to give Cleveland a lot of credit as well. They had a good scheme and they've got good players. And they did a good job of going out there and executing. I don't think we took on some of the blocks, maybe as best as we have in the past. 

“They did a good job with some of the gap schemes. They’re running some of what we call a bounce scheme where they're pulling some linemen and really attacking our edges and you know, creating space for their runners.” 

It all added up to a rushing performance from the Browns that put up 219 yards in Lambeau Field. The Packers pulled out a 24-22 win but were outgained 408-311 by Cleveland. Four turnovers from Baker Mayfield were the key to the Packers' win. 

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Chubb gained 126 yards on the ground, plus another 58 in the air.  LaFleur referenced Chubb’s list of skills as the reason. 

“When you got guys like Chubb that are able to read blocks very effectively, and he’s got great vision, great balance, and he's a powerful guy that can make people miss and then can run through tackles and when you're not perfect, you get exposed.” 

According to Pro Football Focus, Chubb forced four missed tackles against the Packers. That type of performance is a stark reminder to the Packers' defense to be ready on Sunday for the Minnesota Vikings, a team that has beaten them the last two outings, and Dalvin Cook. The Vikings running back is on the reserve/COVID-19 list but expected to play Sunday. 

One of the league’s top five rushers in total output, Cook has put up 249 rushing yards and forced eight missed tackles against the Packers in his last two games against Green Bay. 

“We'll have our work cut out for us against the Vikings, because they're very similar,” LaFleur said. “I mean, they got multiple backs that are really, really talented and they're pretty good up front. So I'm sure it's going to be a big week of work for us to get all that corrected, so it doesn't happen again.”