The Green Bay Packers lost a vital cog to their defense and a key member of their special teams when they placed starting inside linebacker D.J. Smith and backup running back Brandon Saine on season-ending injured reserve on Monday.
The Packers replaced Saine with former Buffalo Bills running back Johnny White. The official transaction for Smith was not announced and no other roster moves were made.
Smith, who sustained a knee injury on a questionable block during the second quarter at Houston, entered the game ranked third on the team with 39 tackles and tied for second with two sacks, plus led the linebacking corps with four passes defensed.
With Smith having replaced standout Desmond Bishop (hamstring) in the preseason, the Packers are without two of their best three players at the position. The alternatives are Brad Jones, Robert Francois and, perhaps, Jamari Lattimore. Fifth-round pick Terrell Manning likely will see added opportunities on special teams but is not part of the defensive conversation. He hasn’t been on the gameday roster since Week 1.
Initial indications suggest the Packers might use a rotation alongside A.J. Hawk.
“I think we have to take a look at these guys and see where they are,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said on Monday. “They’re all capable of handling certain facets of the game. We’re playing a lot of different personnel groups and sometimes it’s good to have guys who are specialists in their personnel group. We’ll take a look at them on the practice field this week and certainly discuss it as we go through game-planning meets tomorrow and decide what direction we want to head.”
Jones started 13 games at outside linebacker during his first three seasons. During offseason practices and training camp this summer, Jones split time between outside linebacker and inside linebacker. He replaced Smith on Sunday and had two tackles, including one for a loss.
Last season, Francois started two games and played most of another in place of an injured Hawk. In those three games, Francois recorded 21 tackles, two interceptions and one forced fumble.
“I’ve felt since training camp we have more athletic ability in terms of depth there,” Capers said. “Brad Jones, obviously, we moved from outside to inside linebacker. We like what Brad brings to the table. Rob Francois played for us last year, so he has experience of playing inside, and Jamari Lattimore is another athletic guy, and these guys will all factor into the picture now even more with D.J. being hurt.”
Smith was leveled on a blind-side block by Duane Brown at the end of a second-quarter play. Coach Mike McCarthy, walking a fine line in criticizing another team and the officiating — a flag was not thrown — called the play “avoidable” and “ugly,” depending on one’s perspective.
“We coach our guys that you have to constantly try to protect yourself and keep your head on a swivel,” Capers said. “It’s unfortunate that it happened but with our game nowadays, you’re going to have to protect yourself from linemen coming in and cutting you and that type of thing. That’s part of the game and you have to deal with it. It’s unfortunate when you lose a guy like that on something like that.”
As for the shuffle at running back, White was Buffalo’s fifth-round pick in 2011 and rushed 20 times for 72 yards and caught one pass for minus-3 in 15 career games. He was released on Saturday and the Packers claimed him off waivers. White (5-10, 210) led North Carolina in rushing as a freshman in 2007. As a sophomore, he played the first seven games at cornerback before moving back to running back. He made an impact with a 25.3-yard average on kickoff returns. As a junior, he played sparingly on offense but averaged 20.5 yards on kickoff returns and tallied 16 special-teams tackles. As a senior, he had a team-high 720 rushing yards.
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