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Packers turn to practice squad for injury replacements

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By Tom Silverstein
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
October 16, 2013

GREEN BAY--Given the option of signing a veteran or going with someone from his practice squad, Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson will surprise you once in a lunar eclipse.

Tuesday, the moon did not dim in the sky.

Desperate for wide receiver help, Thompson bypassed veteran free agents such as Devery Henderson, Laurent Robinson and Steve Breaston in favor of two practice squad members who may be pressed into service right away.

Thompson signed wide receiver Myles White and tight end Jake Stoneburner, both undrafted rookies, to the 53-man roster to help mitigate the injury loss of receivers Randall Cobb (broken leg) and James Jones (knee).

To make room for White and Stoneburner, Thompson placed Cobb and offensive lineman Greg Van Roten (foot) on injured reserve.

Cobb, however, goes on the list with a “designated to return” classification, which means he will be eligible to practice in six weeks and to play in eight. Thus, he will at most be able to play in three more regular-season games, the first a Dec. 15 matchup with the Dallas Cowboys in Irving, Texas.

In placing Cobb on the list, the Packers affirmed the Journal Sentinel’s report Monday that Cobb would miss six to eight weeks with a broken fibula. All coach Mike McCarthy would say at his news conference Monday was that Cobb would be out “multiple weeks.”

In Van Roten’s case, his season is over. A team is allowed only one injured reserve player with the “designated to return” classification per year.

By adding White and Stoneburner, Thompson’s 53-man roster now has 14 rookies, including six who were not drafted. At a minimum, the Packers will have seven rookies on their 46-man game-day roster against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday at Lambeau Field.

There is a slight chance that Jones will be able to play, but the Packers can’t count on that and will prepare to go into the game with Jordy Nelson, Jarrett Boykin and White as their only receivers.

The reason Stoneburner was added is fairly obvious. The Packers plan to use tight end Jermichael Finley as a third wide receiver frequently and having Stoneburner up would allow McCarthy to have his normal allotment of four tight ends, two of whom play a large number of snaps on special teams.

Stoneburner, along with Brandon Bostick, also can help fill holes at receiver. As a senior at Ohio State, the 6-foot-3, 249-pound Stoneburner played wide receiver, catching 16 passes for 269 yards (16.8) and four touchdowns.

The Packers made a strong push to sign rookie receiver Tavarres King off the Denver Broncos’ practice squad, but afraid of losing King, the Broncos made him an offer to join their 53-man roster. It’s unclear how much the Packers were willing to pay the fifth-round draft pick, who had been cut at the end of Broncos training camp, but ultimately he decided it was best to stick where he was.

“It all happened so fast, it was crazy there for a while,” King told the Denver Post. “I didn’t know if I was going to be staying here or moving up to Green Bay. But I love it here. This is where I was drafted. I want this place to be my home. Fortunately for me, I guess I got a little love back.”

In choosing the 6-foot, 182-pound White, the Packers went with someone who has been in their system since the day he entered the NFL and made a strong push for a roster spot during training camp. The Packers had drafted wide receivers Charles Johnson and Kevin Dorsey in the seventh round, but both got hurt in camp and had no shot at making the team.

Johnson and White were added to the practice squad ahead of Tyrone Walker, who had an excellent camp, in part because they are bigger and faster. On Saturday, Johnson accepted an offer to join Cleveland’s 53-man roster, having no idea the Packers would lose two receivers to injury the next day.

It is very possible the Packers would have added both Johnson and White had both been available.

During the preseason, White finished second on the team with eight catches for 90 yards with a long reception of 23 yards. In two seasons at Louisiana Tech, White started only eight games but caught 86 passes for 1,132 yards (13.2 avg.) and nine touchdowns.

When discussing how the offense would get along without Cobb and possibly Jones, offensive coordinator Tom Clements said the versatility of Finley would allow the Packers to put him in a receiver-type role. Finley has lined up at every spot imaginable during his time in McCarthy’s offense and shouldn’t have a problem with the adjustment.

“Because Jermichael is such a matchup concern for other teams, most teams play him as another wide receiver,” Clements said Monday. “In our mind we still have three receivers. We might not be as deep in that position as we’d like to be, but we’re still going to have our opportunities to be successful.”

A big key to keeping the offense rolling will be whether Boykin plays more consistently than he did in the victory over Baltimore on Sunday. In his defense, he had played just 10 snaps from scrimmage going into the game, but he still dropped two passes and looked to be out of sync with quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

He eventually showed what the Packers saw in him when he turned a wide receiver screen into a 43-yard gain, but with lots of the attention expected to be paid to Nelson and Finley, he may have to show up more than once or twice Sunday.

Replacing Cobb, who leads the team in receptions with 29 for 378 yards and two touchdowns, won’t be possible. The Packers do not have a player with his quickness who can line up in the slot or as a running back and be a threat to make a big play anytime he touches the ball.

Rookie cornerback Micah Hyde is very likely to be the full-time punt returner now.

The sooner Jones comes back, the better off the Packers will be, but they still won’t have the quickness of a Cobb in the lineup. As far as Clements is concerned, the system will remain the same, there just might be emphasis in different areas.

“We ran similar-type plays, we just put different people in there, and utilized the same basic concept and the same basic protections, and the guys who were inserted did a good job,” Clements said of playing the second half of the Ravens game without Cobb and Jones. “It’s unfortunate when you lose guys but it’s not as if it never happens. We’ve had to deal with it before and we’ll adjust accordingly.”



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