Green Bay Packers: From “Next Man Up” To “Now What?”

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Casey Hayward
Hayward is just one of the latest walking wounded in Green Bay

The Green Bay Packers may single-handedly add to the very small list of certainties in life.  So far, and as I recall, it’s only “death and taxes”.  Are we finally at a point where “injuries in Green Bay” can at least be considered for said list?

Back in 2010, the Packers lost 16 players to season-ending injured reserve (IR).  The injury bug appeared to subside in 2011 (save for the injury to Nick Collins) when Green Bay went 15-1 during the regular season.  In 2012 it was back, claiming more key players such as linebacker Desmond Bishop and tackle Bryan Bulaga.

I thought maybe it was an “even year” thing, but low and behold, 2013 has the Packers turning into a triage unit once again.  Before the regular season even began, Bulaga was lost for the year during the first scrimmage of the preseason.  Rookie offensive lineman JC Tretter went down during a non-contact drill during the team’s first practice during mini camp. . .in May.  He still has not been activated off of the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list and his chances of landing on IR increase by the day, at this point.

Those should have been omens for what this season had in store.  Since then, the team has seen several players miss time or end up on IR themselves.  Prior to Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Rodgers, Randall Cobb, Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Casey Hayward, James Jones, John Kuhn, James Starks, Eddie Lacy, Jermichael Finley, Brad Jones, Jarrett Bush, Ryan Taylor, Greg Van Roten and Andy Mulumba had all missed at least the majority of one game due to injury.

Finely and Van Roten have already been placed on season-ending IR while Cobb was placed on IR-designated to return and wouldn’t be back until early December, if he is even able to return.  Rookie linebacker Sam Barrington was also placed on season-ending IR last week with a hamstring injury suffered against Chicago.

Several of the others have been able to return but the Packers just cannot seem to get over the proverbial hump with regards to their health.  During Sunday’s game, the Packers lost five more players to injury.

Quarterback Seneca Wallace was gone early in the first quarter, marking the second straight game that Packers head coach Mike McCarthy was forced to throw in a backup early on.  Scott Tolzien came in and finished the game but behind him, there was no other active quarterback.  The Packers were one blow away from finding out how serviceable the reported emergency options of Jordy Nelson or John Kuhn could have been, if needed.

There is a real possibility that Wallace may be placed on IR if he is deemed unfit to play this week.  In that case, the Packers would need to bring in another quarterback to back up Tolzien and until Aaron Rodgers can return from a collarbone injury.  The team plans to work out Matt Flynn on Monday and we should learn more about that shortly.  The Packers need to make a quick decision on who they will take to New York with them to face the Giants this next week.

Besides Wallace, the Packers also saw Evan Dietrich-Smith, Don Barclay, Casey Hayward and Nick Perry leave Sunday’s game with injuries.  As mentioned, Hayward and Perry had already missed time and both injuries appeared to be the same ones that had previously sidelined them.   None of those four players returned to the Eagles game and their statuses in moving forward will become known when the team resumes full practice on Wednesday.

All four of those players are current starters and both EDS and Barclay are on an offensive line that was being relied upon to spring the team’s run game.  It was hoped that the ground game could possibly help carry the Packers to a respectable showing while Rodgers was out and to keep the team’s postseason hopes alive.

When EDS went down with a knee injury, guard T.J. Lang moved to center, Barclay slid over to right guard and Marshall Newhouse took over at right tackle.  It should be noted that Lang’s status for Sunday was up in the air after he suffered a concussion during last week’s loss to the Chicago Bears.  Fortunately Lang was cleared to play.  When Barclay suffered a knee injury, rookie Lane Taylor was inserted at right guard.  The results were less-than-stellar and the run game was rendered ineffective.

McCarthy can continue to tout his “next man up” and “keep calm and carry on” mantras but has it become too much for even the most optimistic of coaches to burden?  Guard Josh Sitton tried to remain positive when asked about all of the injuries but was left wondering “what’s in the water?”

For those who want to look at the team’s training staff as a possible problem area, the head athletic trainer is Pepper Burruss.  Burruss has been in that role with the team since 1993.  Back in 2011, Burruss and his staff were awarded the NFL Athletic Training Staff of the Year award, as voted by other training staffs throughout the league.  Burruss’ strength and conditioning coordinator is Mark Lovat.  Lovat assumed that role in early 2010 and has been with the team for over 15 years.

Now, I get that we’re entering “more than just a fluke” territory with some of these bumps and bruises, but I don’t think the training staff can prevent all injuries.  Broken bones happen in the NFL.  Even hamstring and muscle injuries are commonplace on any other team in the league.  I would urge any with a solid medical background to come forward and tell the Packers something they don’t already know about their existing exercise and training routines.

So, as the title states:  now what?  Well, I have no idea.  Just like many of you, I’m also tired of hearing about the “back luck” that the Packers just have to get through.  Well when does that end?  Does it ever?  I have to wonder what McCarthy could do with those few extra hours every week that he spends getting a medical update from Dr. Pat McKenzie.

Looking into trends and stats takes time and the Packers have only so much of that with the players every week, thanks to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.  With the bye week long gone, the Packers get anywhere from 6-10 days in between games, at the most.  They just need to try and get by with what they have and hope that most of these key players will eventually return.

A few other teams have been hit hard by injuries and have seen the landscape of their 2013 seasons change dramatically.  The Atlanta Falcons are front of mind, with the losses of top receivers Julio Jones (IR) and Roddy White (recently returned).  The Bears again lost Jay Cutler to injury on Sunday and have lost two of the last three games.  The point is, it happens in the NFL and maybe Green Bay’s number is finally being called.

Roster moves can get tricky as the team’s only option to open up a roster spot is to cut or place a player on injured reserve.  Otherwise, the Packers have to decide if it’s worth an injured guy holding onto his spot in the hopes that he can return.  With only seven weeks remaining, general manager Ted Thompson has to weigh the benefit of adding a new body to the roster so late in the season.  Historically, he has not done so unless in a bind.  McCarthy tends to like having guys he knows around him and so the team seems to favor holding out hope that their players can heal.

McCarthy alluded to getting into some of the recurring issues that this team is having during his post-game press conference.  Is it possible that strength and conditioning are a part of that equation?  I have my doubts, but anything is possible.  It’s hard to say what the Packers’ season will look like if Rodgers is able to return or when that would be.  What I do know is that these are some very choppy waters that the team is trying to navigate.  Ultimately the Packers are hopeful that they will eventually have all hands on deck and with a chance to make a late-season push.

 

 

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Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.com

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  • Marlow

    In September I was in GB for the Redskins game and took a tour of the stadium. Our guide told us that the surface of the field at Lambeau was mostly a synthetic material plus some real grass. I know that this wouldn’t cover all of the injuries, but I do know that when I was teaching in high school, we had more injuries to the boys when the real grass was removed and the composite was laid down. I wonder if there’s a study somewhere that compares types of injuries in the NFL related to the surface of the field? Perhaps a different type of conditioning for players is required when they play on artificial surfaces? This is a straw–might be worth grasping, might not.

  • Big T

    Practice soft = play soft
    Condition poorly = INJURIES

    • Slim11

      Big T has it right. I’m inclined to think the rash of injuries is related to soft practices and conditioning. Unfortunately, the CBA limits padded practices during the regular season.

  • Jack

    These injuries have proven 1 thing only. Aaron Rodgers is the ultimate Band-Aid in the NFL. We knew the pass defence wasn’t that good (see Francisco, San) or that we need a good backup quarterback (Colts 2011 season). The run defence wasn’t that good, teams would just rather pass. We haven’t gotten many turn overs at all. Aaron Rodgers has caused us to forget about all of this by his dominant play. It is hard for me to remember the last time AR had a bad game, but the D bailed the Packers out (I am thinking Jan. 2011 against the Bears, NFC Championship Game). Even in close games, it occurs too often that our D cant keep it close for Rodgers to win it (Week 1 @ San Fran).

  • Katsuya

    @Jack I think you have a very short memory if you don’t remember the last time the defense put this team on it’s back, because they’ve done it twice this season against Detroit and Baltimore. Two games where Rodgers struggled. What is truly frustrating is after Rodgers does down, the defense decides to start playing like crap.