Whitney Mercilus makes good on vow, returns to Green Bay Packers practice after being activated from injured reserve

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GREEN BAY - As soon as the injury happened, a torn biceps that appeared to automatically signal the end of his season, Whitney Mercilus was defiant.

The odds he could somehow play again this season were not good. Mercilus tore his biceps Nov. 14 early in the third quarter as he tried to wrap up a sack against Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. A torn biceps could cost the year even if it comes much earlier in the season.

Mercilus wouldn’t hear of that.

“He’s been saying since the night he got hurt,” defensive coordinator Joe Barry said, “he’s like, ‘I’m going to be back. I’m coming back. I promise you I’m coming back.’”

When the Packers' coaching staff held its weekly meeting with head athletics trainer Bryan Engel after returning from Detroit, Barry learned Mercilus had made remarkable progress. The 31-year-old veteran linebacker indeed had a chance to play again this season.

Green Bay Packers defensive end Whitney Mercilus (50) sacks Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3)- during the first quarter of their game Sunday, November 14, 2021 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. The Green Bay Packers beat the Seattle Seahawks 17-0.

Still, Barry couldn’t have imagined how quickly Mercilus might return.

Mercilus practiced Thursday for the first time since his injury almost exactly two months earlier. Even though Barry said Mercilus was limited, it was worth noting the Packers were in pads Thursday.

“Flea was really excited where Whitney was,” Barry said. “But to be honest with you, I would think that would be next week. Now it was pretty limited, but Whitney was in – we practiced in pads today. So Whitney was out on the practice field in pads today.

“He’s worked his tail off to get to where he’s at.”

Mercilus showed some pass rush after arriving midseason following his release from the Houston Texans, where he was a second-team All-Pro in 2016. Before his injury, he had a sack against Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

In four games, Mercilus set a good edge against the run and could be used primarily on early downs if cleared for the playoffs, complementing Za'Darius Smith's simultaneous return to the field.

“At that position,” Barry said, “at the outside linebacker, defensive end position, you have a nice, healthy rotation. Not having Za’Darius all year, that put a lot of pressure on Rashan and Preston. We had guys who filled in and did a great job. When we got Whitney, not only were we getting a guy to roll in there, he’s played at a Pro Bowl level before in his career.

“So now moving into the playoffs, not only having the ability to still have Rashan and Preston but to have a Z in the rotation, to have potentially a Whitney in the rotation, it just gives you fresh rushers, fresh, violent guys on the edge.”

As a fourth outside linebacker, Mercilus highlights the Packers’ unprecedented depth entering these playoffs. His return joins a list including Smith, cornerback Jaire Alexander, left tackle David Bakhtiari, right tackle Billy Turner and center Josh Myers. Each practiced Thursday with the team continuing to get work on the field during its bye.

Bakhtiari returned to the field Thursday after being given an off day for "load management" Wednesday. Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said he was pleased with Bakhtiari’s 27 snaps in Detroit.

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“He did a really good job,” Hackett said. “I think it was kind of worth the wait, the way we looked at it. He came in there and did everything, just even watching Aaron and him give a high five that first (snap). We were laughing because the whole year, Aaron has done such a good job at getting the ball out early. He’s one of the best in the league.

“The very first play he’s back there for like seven seconds because Bakh’s back in, making him work, testing it all out.”

Busy weekend for interviews

It may be a bye week, but Hackett and quarterbacks coach Luke Getsy have some work to do. 

Hackett is scheduled to interview with three teams — Jacksonville, Chicago and Denver — for their head-coaching position, starting with the Broncos on Friday and Jacksonville on Saturday, according to a source. The interview with the Broncos and Jaguars will take place in person in Green Bay and the interview with the Bears will be done on a video call. 

Getsy will meet face-to-face with the Broncos, who will be flying into Green Bay after interviewing Detroit defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn. 

Hackett, who has interviewed for other head-coaching jobs, said he’ll try to convey as much about himself and his coaching style as possible during the meetings. He said the most important thing is being yourself. 

“You’ve got to speak from the heart,” Hackett said. “And really, that's about it. I mean, it's really one of those things, when you're talking to people, it's not as much X's and O's as people would think. It's more just about the kind of person that you are, how you would lead the team, how you would handle the team. 

“And it's been a great experience here, because how we do it here is how I want to do it. And so, it's kind of been on-the-job training since I got here with Matt.” 

Summers sighting

In addition to the big-name players returning to practice this week, a very important member of the special teams joined them.  

Linebacker Ty Summers, who has been on injured reserve since Dec. 24 with a hamstring injury, was designated for return Wednesday and took part in the full-pads practice Thursday. Summers plays on almost every special teams unit and ranks tied for fifth with five tackles. 

“He brings experience to the unit,” special teams coach Maurice Drayton said. “He is one of our leaders, and he's done a great job the past few weeks in the classroom of leading and using teachable moments and echoing some of the coaching from his vantage point and from the guys’ vantage point, so having him back on the field would be huge.” 

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers practiced for a second straight day.  

Wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling (back), cornerback Chandon Sullivan (knee) and defensive end Kingsley Keke (illness) were the only ones who did not practice.

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