Packers finally practice with all 11 starters
The Packers had the NFL’s second-ranked defense last season. But second-year linebacker Clay Matthews missed all four exhibition games with a pulled left hamstring, and fellow linebacker Brad Jones missed the final three games with a shoulder injury.
Defensive end Cullen Jenkins missed the final two preseason games with a strained calf.
“You’d definitely like to have more time out there playing with each other to be able to feel each other out, but when it comes down to it, it’s still football, and we all know how to play it,” Jenkins said. “We just have to go out there and do what we’re supposed to do.”
When the players returned to practice Monday after three days off, it marked the first time all 11 defensive starters worked together since the scrimmage.
Matthews and Jones participated in all aspects of practice, and Jenkins took part in the jog-through at the start before going inside the Don Hutson Center with the injury rehabilitation group.
If anyone was worried about whether the defense could flip the switch in time for the Eagles, they weren’t saying so Monday.
“You know what? We don’t have time to worry about that. We have no choice but go out there and work with whoever’s going to be out there on Sunday,” said cornerback Charles Woodson, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
“We just have to go get it done. That’s the only way to look at it.”
There are complicating factors, though, because Matthews, Jones and Jenkins are directly involved in one of the few changes defensive coordinator Dom Capers made during training camp: switching Matthews to the left side and moving Jones to the right.
Jenkins, as the right defensive end, worked on the same side as Matthews all of last year but now will be working in concert with Jones.
“I think we’ll be fine. If anything, we’ll be fresh,” Matthews said. “I know I felt great
out there today as far as my conditioning and my overall physical well-being.
“We know what we need to do,” the linebacker added. “We’ve got a great coach and we’ve got great expectations on our shoulders. I don’t think there’s going to be a drop-off. I think you’re going to see the same thing we did last year—shutting down the run, making them throw the ball and hopefully getting after the quarterback a little bit more.”
Jones dismissed the suggestion that the position flip-flop with Matthews would be an issue, but coach Mike McCarthy acknowledged that the move
isn’t a simple one.
“I don’t think anything is simple anytime you change positions,” McCarthy said. “There is a difference. There is no denying that.”
McCarthy also said the move should give Matthews more pass-rushing opportunities. By playing on the left side, he’ll face weaker offensive linemen—an opponent’s right tackle usually is a lesser player than its left tackle—and will also be separated from Jenkins, the Packers’ best rusher among the defensive linemen.
That should decrease the number of double teams Matthews will see, since offenses will have to protect against Jenkins on one side and Matthews on the other.
“(Matthews) is going to have opportunities over there that he may or may not have had on the other side,” McCarthy said. “Scheme is designed to put the player in a one-on-one situation and the player’s responsibility is to win the one-on-one situation. Whether it is right side or left side, we’ll continue to give him the work.
“Clay is a gifted young man. He brings a lot to the table in terms of his physical gifts and the way he plays the game, so I am fully confident he’ll be very productive over there.”
-- Wide receiver Jordy Nelson said after practice that he’ll be the kickoff returner and cornerback Tramon Williams confirmed he’ll handle punt returns.
-- The Packers announced their eight-man practice squad, which included seven players from training camp: OT Chris Campbell, LB Robert Francois, OT Breno Giacomini, QB Graham Harrell, S Anthony Levine, LB Maurice Simpkins and WR Chastin West. The eighth is RB James Johnson, a first-year player out of Kansas State who entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2008 with the Cincinnati Bengals.
-- Several players changed jersey numbers from training camp: Harrell (No. 6), safety Charlie Peprah (No. 26) and linebacker Frank Zombo (No. 58).