The Green Bay Packers might have a new look in the secondary for Sunday’s game against Detroit with the possible return of standout safety Morgan Burnett.
And Burnett has a new look, too. Last week, Burnett cut off the dreadlocks that he’s worn since his sophomore year in high school.
“My mom’s been on my case for about five years about it so it really made her day. I did it for her,” Burnett said on Monday, the team’s first day back after last week’s bye.
Highlighted by Burnett, the Packers returned from their bye a little healthier than they were after limping off the field after a disappointing 34-30 loss at Cincinnati on Sept. 22. Also back was rookie running back Eddie Lacy, who missed the Cincinnati game with a concussion.
“My general sense is we improved,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “We had a number of guys test today, so we’ll have that information for you on Wednesday. I haven’t even visited with the training staff to see how the workouts went.”
Burnett, the leader of the Packers’ secondary, played every defensive snap last season but missed every snap of the first three games of this season due to a hamstring injury sustained on Aug. 23. Without him, the Packers rank 27th in points allowed per game, 28th in yards allowed per game, 28th in passing yards allowed per game, 31st in yards allowed per play and 32nd in yards allowed per passing play.
Burnett was on course to play in Week 1 – he wasn’t even on the injury report until the Friday before the opener against San Francisco. He was limited participation all week leading to the Week 2 game against Washington but didn’t play then, either. Before the Cincinnati game, Burnett practiced on Wednesday before being shut down for the week.
This time, Burnett thinks he’s back for good. He took part in all phases of practice and said he wasn’t holding anything back.
“It felt real good,” said Burnett, who signed a four-year, $24.75 million contract extension in the offseason. “It was exciting. It was almost like a kid waiting the night before Christmas. I was real excited about getting back up here, getting back on the field. I felt like a little kid at the candy store. It was fun being out there.”
Lacy, the team’s bruising second-round running back, was back after sustaining a concussion in a helmet-to-helmet hit by Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather on Sept. 15. Without him, James Starks broke the team’s 44-game drought without a 100-yard rusher against the Redskins and Johnathan Franklin topped 100 yards against the Bengals but had a fumble that was returned for the decisive touchdown.
Not all of the injury news was good, though McCarthy had little to say on individual players since the team doesn’t have to issue an injury report to the league until Wednesday. However, tight end Jermichael Finley (concussion), outside linebacker Clay Matthews (hamstring), cornerback Casey Hayward (hamstring), Starks (knee) and fullback John Kuhn (hamstring) did not participate in the part of practice open to reporters. Of them, only Finley, who sustained a concussion on the first pass thrown his way at Cincinnati, was on the practice field.
Green Bay’s defense could use the talents of Burnett, Matthews and Hayward with the high-octane Detroit Lions playing at Green Bay on Sunday. The Lions (3-1) rank fourth in the league with 30.5 points per game and are coming off a 40-32 victory over previously undefeated Chicago.
The Packers’ defense suffered in the second half at Cincinnati without Matthews, a four-time Pro Bowler who had a sack and forced two fumbles in the first half alone. Hayward, who intercepted six passes as a rookie, hasn’t played a snap this season.
“They have a very explosive offense,” Burnett said. “They’ve got a lot of weapons with Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush; they’ve got (Brandon) Pettigrew at tight end, you’ve got Matthew Stafford at quarterback. They’ve got weapons, so you’ve got to trust your defense, trust your technique. You can’t get out of line with guessing or anything, because they’re a good team.”
Notes: Without Starks and Kuhn, the Packers filled a vacant roster spot by promoting running back Michael Hill from the practice squad. Hill, an undrafted rookie out of Missouri Western, was a finalist for the Harlon Hill Trophy, which is the Division II equivalent of the Heisman Trophy. He spent training camp with San Diego. Taking Hill’s place on the practice squad is receiver/returner Reggie Dunn, an undrafted rookie from Utah who returned four kickoffs for touchdowns as a senior. Dunn spent camp with the Steelers. … McCarthy had the team in pads after the week layoff. … The Packers entered the bye at 1-2, with the team’s minus-2 turnover ratio being his biggest concern. “We’re doing a lot of good things as far as big play production, extending plays, things like that. There’s balance on offense. Defensively, pass defense is something that we’ve looked at. And special teams, our return game is something that we’ve looked at. With that, I don’t think it’s anything earth shattering.”