Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb returns to practice in hopes he can contribute to the team's postseason push
GREEN BAY – Despite the fact COVID-19 is still moving through the NFL and affecting roster depth everywhere, the Green Bay Packers’ player numbers are on the rebound.
On the same day they registered no positive tests among players on the active roster, the Packers returned three key players to practice Thursday, including one surprise: wide receiver Randall Cobb.
Cornerback Kevin King and wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling both passed COVID-19 protocols and were back on the field in full pads Thursday afternoon, but the real news was the return of Cobb.
The Packers opened up a three-week window in which Cobb can remain on injured reserve but not count against the 53-man roster. The Packers can move him to the 53-man roster any time during those three weeks.
“It’s very encouraging,” wide receivers coach Jason Vrable said, adding that Cobb badly wanted to be available when the playoffs begin.
Prior to practice, coach Matt LaFleur gave no indication that Cobb would take part in practice, let alone in full pads, so he wasn’t asked about his prospects for playing Sunday night against the Minnesota Vikings.
But the Packers have used practice as part of the rehabilitation process, so it’s possible Cobb was working to get back in time for the playoffs and not this week or next. Other players who have had similar surgery have needed around a month before returning to action.
It was just five weeks ago that Cobb suffered a core muscle tear during a four-catch, 95-yard, one-touchdown performance against the Los Angeles Rams, leading him to undergo surgery during the team’s bye week. The Packers placed Cobb on injured reserve Dec. 11.
Valdes-Scantling’s return was expected after he was returned to the active roster Wednesday. He had gone on the reserve/COVID-19 list Dec. 21.
King’s return occurred much quicker. He was placed on the list Saturday and so he was able to benefit from the NFL’s relaxed protocols, which say a player can return in five days as long as he doesn't show COVID-19 symptoms.
He and fellow cornerback Shemar Jean-Charles were both activated off the list and should be available Sunday.
All three of the players returning have roster exemptions until this weekend and will have to be added to the 53-man roster, which because of numerous COVID-19 cases holds just 42 players.
Cobb’s return would be welcome. He was having a solid year, excelling the most on third downs. He has 28 catches for 375 yards and five touchdowns.
Cobb also could take over the punt return duties from rookie Amari Rodgers, who has struggled in that role. Rodgers is on the COVID-19 list, so if Cobb plays this weekend, he could be the punt returner.
The two players the Packers added to the COVID-19 list are guard Elgton Jenkins and outside linebacker Randy Ramsey. Both are on injured reserve but have been around the team and the facility.
Wide receiver David Moore added to Packers practice squad
The Packers added a player to the practice squad, but they did not add a punter to replace Corey Bojorquez if he is unable to return to the roster from the COVID-19 list.
The team added 6-foot, 219-pound wide receiver David Moore, a former seventh-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks, who was in training camp with Carolina this summer and spent time on the practice squads of Las Vegas and Denver this fall.
LaFleur said that moves were being made to make sure the Packers weren't short if they need a punter Sunday. However, no one was added to the practice squad or 53-man roster Thursday.
Special teams coach Maurice Drayton said he has a list of punters, snappers and kickers he keeps during the season that he discusses with the personnel department if there is an emergency. He said it’s too early to tell whether a replacement will be needed for Bojorquez, who would be eligible to play Sunday if he doesn't have COVID-19 symptoms after his five-day quarantine period.
Drayton said that he has worked eight different backup holders during practice and would have someone ready if Bojorquez can’t play.
Moore has some return experience and could be used there if Amari Rodgers can't come off the COVD-19 list. Cornerback Chandon Sullivan said that he has continued working on punt returns and is available if needed.
Aaron Rodgers, Tyler Lancaster did not practice Thursday
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers (toe) and nose tackle Tyler Lancaster (back) missed a second straight day of practice.
Rodgers will play Sunday, but Lancaster's status is up in the air and with Kingsley Keke on the COVID-19 list, the Packers may be a little light defending against the Vikings' rushing attack.
Tackle Billy Turner (knee) and center Josh Myers (knee) continued their work on the side during practice. Neither is expected to play this week, but the Packers are not counting them out for the rest of the season.
AJ Dillon ready for cold temperatures at Lambeau Field
The temperature will be dropping Sunday as the Packers face the Vikings and that means AJ Dillon could be heating up. The Boston College alum has years of experience playing in cold weather, which will pay off Sunday night when temps are expected to go as low as 1 degree.
To start, he’ll lean on his memories of a high school game in Massachusetts.
“It was single digits, windy. It had rained the day before so the ground was all slick and it was on turf. This is high school so we had no heated benches, no big coats, anything like that,” Dillon said. “That was just, that was a tough one.”
Then, as a freshman at Boston College, playing in the 2017 Pinstripe Bowl against Iowa State, Dillon did his best impression of a cartoon character.
“We played at Yankee Stadium, and they don't have heaters underneath their field because it's a baseball field,” Dillon said Thursday. “We were skating out there. Half the team had their gym shoes on. Some people had on cleats. … I look like a guy in Scooby Doo, running away from a mobster, just not going anywhere. So it was freezing, but I played in a fair amount of cold games.”
Unlike Yankee Stadium which ends its season in October, the Packers' field is heated from beneath. That will make things abundantly safer, but the biting cold and Dillon’s 250-pound frame can still become a battering ram against the Vikings' run defense. Dillon is averaging 4.3 yards per carry and 45.1 yards per game on the ground.
“It’s gonna be a physical game anytime you get the elements, which we normally have this time of year up here in Green Bay. Coming from the East Coast, I played in it a lot. So, you know, I kind of feel adjusted to it, I know what to expect. And these games tend to be physical, gritty and just kind of back to the fundamentals and really honing in on the details this week.”
Dillon had 97 total yards on 11 rushes and six receptions against the Vikings in Week 11. On Sunday, in the whipping wind and vicious cold, he’ll likely be leaned on even more. Repeating or surpassing those numbers is not his concern, however. For a team on the verge of clinching the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs, there’s only one aspect of Sunday’s game that concerns Dillon.
“I might have had a good game, last game or whatever, but we didn't win," he said, referring to the Packers' 34-31 road loss to the Vikings Nov. 21. "So that's the most important stat to me, and hopefully we're going to make sure that outcome is different this time.”