While the Green Bay Packers have been fortunate to get through the first week of camp without any significant injuries to key players, the injured list is becoming disconcerting to coach Mike McCarthy.
Ten players were held out of Saturday night’s scrimmage (including veterans Donald Driver and Charles Woodson, who were resting). Making matters worse, the Packers lost star outside linebacker Clay Matthews and receivers Jordy Nelson and Brett Swain. Neither of the injuries were serious, fortunately.
“The scoreboard for me personally, the way I view it, is the No. 1 score that I am interested in is our medical report,” McCarthy said. “You want to come out of this controlled scrimmage healthy, there is no doubt about it. But at some point you are going to be in live action. This was our first opportunity to get in front of a live crowd. It’s the first opportunity to have live action with your fundamentals, blocking, tackling, handling the football, and that’s very important.”
McCarthy said Matthews “tweaked” a hamstring but wasn’t sure of the severity. Nelson was hit by safety Charlie Peprah after a long reception early in the scrimmage and departed with a bruise to the side. Swain was the biggest scare, with him spraining the same knee that was surgically rebuilt after a torn ACL early last season.
“I just got bent over (on a kickoff return,” Swain said. “It’s kind of a good thing and a bad thing. They checked me out, and I was good. But it’s the first hit I’ve taken on it pretty much. Once I found out that I was good, I started to calm down a little bit. You take that first hit, and you kind of get a little nervous and you get bent in a weird way. But at least I know that I can take that now. A positive thing out of it. Everything is fine.”
Out were safety Atari Bigby (ankle), safety Will Blackmon (knee), cornerback Al Harris (knee), running back James Starks (hamstring), linebacker Frank Zombo (ankle), linebacker Brady Poppinga (concussion), linebacker Nick Barnett (knee) and defensive end Ronald Talley (ankle).
“This is kind of a normal protocol that particularly a skill position that’s a returner, a safety and a corner, the pounding of being on it every day for those long practices, we just have to be smart with him,” McCarthy said of Blackmon.
Dynamite on defense
The No. 1 defense had a big night. Facing the No. 2 offense early in the scrimmage, the starting defense forced a punt on a big third-down pass rush by Cullen Jenkins, forced a punt on a sack by A.J. Hawk, got a pick-six by Brandon Underwood and forced another punt.
Later, in a matchup against the starting offense, the defense bent but didn’t break while keeping Aaron Rodgers and Co. out of the end zone. Jarrett Bush’s breakup of a pass to James Jones at the goal line was huge, and Underwood had great coverage on a fourth-down pass to Swain.
“The No. 1 defense I thought played extremely well,” McCarthy said. “When you go out and have four three-and-outs, that is exactly what you are looking for.”
Throw out a scramble by Rodgers and him taking a knee to end the scrimmage, the defense (all units) allowed 8 rushing yards on eight attempts.
“We always want to stop the run first. That’s how this defense is designed,” nose tackle B.J. Raji said. “If we let offenses get big yardage, than we’re not effective on third down. We want to try to keep teams on third-and-long and get after them.”
— Special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum had to be thrilled. His punters dueled to a draw, Mason Crosby hit 7-of-8 field goals and Brandon Jackson returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown. We’ll have more on that later.
— Rodgers is now 0-for-4 in two-minute situations, though neither McCarthy nor Rodgers are going to lose any sleep.
“Our defense is pretty good, first of all,” Rodgers said. “Second of all, I think in a regular-season contest, they would probably keep the ball in my hands and maybe call a different play (instead of a third-down run to Ryan Grant near the goal line). I think they just wanted to see that play run in that situation.”
— The play of the night was by undrafted rookie cornerback Sam Shields, who showed great instincts and his as-advertised speed by darting across the field to pick off Matt Flynn and returning it 98 yards for a touchdown.
— There is no practice on Sunday. The team gets back to work at 2 p.m. Monday. Leading to Saturday’s preseason opener against Cleveland at Lambeau, the Packers will practice at 8:45 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, get a day off on Wednesday, at 8:45 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Thursday and hold a short (closed to the public) practice on Friday.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.