While trying to make a decision on which defensive linemen to place on the 45-man active game-day roster for Sunday's regular season home opener against the Buffalo Bills, the Green Bay Packers have a lot of things to take under consideration. Namely, the health factor.
Defensive lineman, Justin Harrell is out for the season after being placed on season-ending Injured Reserve. So he's definitely out of the equation.
The Packers will have to contemplate about the status of rookie Mike Neal, but will likely only keep him active if he's fully healthy and able to contribute to the team with no limitations after suffering a strained abdominal muscle during practice last week.
"I’m hopeful," head coach Mike McCarthy said about Neal on Wednesday. "Had a very positive report on Mike yesterday, but we’ll see how he responds. There’s certain things they’re asking him to do in the rehab that he’s not able to do yet to get on the field. That’s obviously why he didn’t practice today, so we’re getting Jarius and C.J. ready."
Neal didn't play in Green Bay's Week 1 game at Philadelphia, which hurt the Packers depth along the defensive line. The Packers made the difficult decision to keep only four defensive linemen active for the Eagles game.
Once Harrell went down with an ACL tear against the Eagles, that left the team with only three available defensive linemen. The Packers used their nickel and dime personnel exclusively throughout the rest of the game, which only required only two defensive linemen to be on the field at any given time.
The decision to go with strictly subpackage personnel was made at the expense of using more defensive linemen, including in short-yardage situations. Although, the nickel personnel acquitted itself very well with an overall stellar performance and being able to stuff dangerous Eagles quarterback Michael Vick on fourth-and-1 without a lot of size in the trench in order to preserve the victory.
Performances such as Sunday's make it possible for the Packers to ponder keeping a smaller amount of defensive linemen active on game days so as to activate players at other positions on the roster.
Cullen Jenkins suffered a multiple fractures in his hand on Sunday, but returned to the game with a club cast and performed quite admirably given the circumstances.
While a nuisance, the club cast can be expected to stay on Jenkins' hand for at least the foreseeable future.
"I know for this week and the next few weeks, it's going to be on for sure," said Jenkins. "I'm just hoping that the pain just keep going down like it has so you can start using it more and more.
"The doc told me the last game, that's definitely going to be the toughest game that I'd play in as far as pain-wise. It's been feeling better every day, but it's still tough. Still some pain in there, and some things when I move it around. It's hard to say how it's going to feel on Sunday, what percentage it's going to be at."
In view of the uncertain health situation surrounding Mike Neal–and to a lesser extent Cullen Jenkins–the Packers have to be prepared to enter Sunday's game versus the Bills with reinforcements.
McCarthy indicated on Monday that he expects both Jarius Wynn and C.J. Wilson to be elevated to the 45-man roster for the Bills game.
"Well, they’re going to be up, so we’re looking for those guys to contribute," said McCarthy. "That’s why they’re on our 53. We have history with Jarius, and C.J. is definitely improving. I definitely feel he has a lot of good football in front of him. Those guys are getting ready to go for this week."
Wynn re-joined the team just this week after having been released when the Packers had to make the original cutdown to 53 men before Week 1 of the season. He was on his way back to Green Bay on Monday, in effect to take Harrell's spot on the roster.
Meanwhile, Wilson is just a raw rookie that may not be ready for the big time yet. He shows promise as a pass rusher but didn't have the success in the month of August that many hoped he would.
Whoever plays on Sunday, they're going to be asked to stop a Bills offense in front of an electric crowd at Lambeau Field ready to see a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
"For us, especially on the D-line, the no. 1 focus is always going to be the run," said Jenkins. "We've got to get C.J. [Spiller] stopped, but after that we're going to have to try to get some pressure on the quarterback, try to help out the guys in the secondary."
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