GREEN BAY – Mike McCarthy’s phrase of choice on Monday when talking about his four big-name injured guys – outside linebacker Clay Matthews, safety Charles Woodson, wide receiver Jordy Nelson and left guard/right tackle T.J. Lang – was couldn’t tell you.
Will Woodson and Matthews be back this week? “Couldn’t tell you,” McCarthy said at the outset of his reply.
Will Nelson and Lang be able to practice this week? “Couldn’t tell you,” McCarthy said again.
But after the couldn’t tell yous, there was hope. And with a showdown with the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field set for Sunday, with the NFC North division title there for the clinching with a victory, hope was a good thing for the Green Bay Packers coach.
“I'm hopeful. Hopeful they practice, hopeful they play,” McCarthy said Monday, one day after the team’s 27-20 victory over Detroit, before adding, “I don't have any new information for you.”
Woodson hasn’t played since breaking his collarbone at St. Louis on Oct, 21, missing the past six games. Matthews hasn’t played since pulling his left hamstring against Arizona on Nov. 4, missing the past four games. Nelson has injured his hamstring twice – once in advance of the Oct. 28 game against Jacksonville, forcing him to miss that game, and again on Dec. 2 against Minnesota, causing him to miss Sunday night’s game. And Lang sprained his ankle against the Vikings, which likely would have left him inactive for Sunday night’s game if the Packers had more depth on their line. Instead, Lang was active but was to play only in case of emergency, and it never came to that.
The Packers were also without defensive ends Mike Neal (shoulder) and C.J. Wilson (knee), as well as running back James Starks (knee). On the bright side, they didn’t suffer any more injuries in the game, got cornerback Sam Shields (ankle) back in the mix for the first time since he suffered his injury Oct. 14 at Houston and saw wide receiver Greg Jennings play in his second straight game after missing seven straight games with a lower abdominal muscle tear that occurred in the Sept. 9 opener and required Nov. 1 surgery.
“Sometimes things happen in cycles. I'm here to tell you our cycle (of injuries) is ended,” McCarthy said with a chuckle, knowing he has no control over it. “That’s the tough part of our game. It’s hard to see players go through it. But when you start going through your inactive list and have to make tough decision on who you're trying to prepare for the 46, those are the types of situations that are hard. Our inactive list has pretty much taken care of itself for the last month (because of injuries).
“Hopefully we'll be making those hard decisions this week.”
To their credit, the Packers haven’t wallowed in their injury losses and have managed to win seven of their last eight games after a 2-3 start.
“You can’t sit around and invest a lot of time in guys that you’re not going to have out there. You’ve got to focus all your attention on the guys you do have,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said.
“With Charles, Charles surprises you in a lot of ways. He got out there and went through some things in practice last week. As far as his moving around, that type of thing, he’s been running some of the service teams so we’ll see if he gets the OK. To me probably the biggest question is taking a blow on that shoulder. If they say he’s OK to go, we’ll start working him back in.”
How the Packers will reintegrate Matthews, Woodson, Nelson and Lang back into the mix will be part of the process of practice during the week. For instance, McCarthy avoided a question about whether Lang would return at his customary left guard spot or at right tackle if he does play this week.
“We'll see,” McCarthy said. “We’ve got some flexibility.”
The hope is that flexibility will be there at every position with an influx of now-healthy bodies.
“This is the time of the year where these games, this makes all the difference – how we play from this point on,” Capers said. “We know starting with this week, division game, against the Bears, down there in their stadium, our goal is to be our best. Obviously if we get Clay back, we’ll welcome him out there. Hopefully he can come out and have a good week of practice.”
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