Only center Scott Wells and right guard Josh Sitton are the preferred starters at their respective positions.With several injuries, however, the Packers have no choice but to prepare their backups to fill in at positions they’re not accustomed to playing.
“We’ve had injuries on the offensive line, no doubt, losing your two tackles in the game at Kansas City,” said head coach Mike McCarthy on Wednesday.
Against the Chiefs in the Packers’ first loss of the season, Green Bay lost Bryan Bulaga with a sprain to his knee and first-round draft pick Derek Sherrod to a broken leg. Sherrod has been placed on injured reserve and is out for the year. And while Bulaga probably won’t miss the rest of the season, he’s already been ruled out for Sunday’s game.
In their place, the Packers will shift T.J. Lang from his usual starting spot at left guard over to right tackle and then insert Evan Dietrich-Smith in Lang’s spot at left guard.
Despite all the shuffling, McCarthy expressed confidence in the line that will be entrusted with protecting uber-valuable quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
“Dietrich-Smith has played football for us,” said McCarthy, “and he’ll be prepared with a full week of preparation for this game, and no different for T.J. We feel good about the opportunity to line up against (the Bears). I think their defensive line is a strength of their defense.”
Even though the Packers have beaten the Bears three consecutive times, the Chicago defense has always been up to the challenge. The Packers may be averaging a league-leading 34.3 points per game this season, but their they’ve only scored 10, 21 and 27 points in those last three victories over the Bears.
Led by six-time Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers who has 10 sacks so far this season, the Bears defense will be motivated by the chance to earn for a spot in the playoffs.
It’s almost as if the Packers and the Bears have swapped places from one year ago. Last season, the Packers faced the Bears in Week 17 needing a win to even qualify for the postseason while Chicago had already had a playoff berth locked up.
“They’re obviously very talented on their defense, still one of the best defenses in the league in my opinion, the players they have and the way they attack teams,” said Lang. “Kind of like our position last year, we kind of had to struggle to get into the playoffs last year. They still have hope, and it’s really no different.
“We expect them to come in and give us our best shot just like every other team we face. It’s definitely going to be a fight, common opponent, division rival, and it’s going to come down to attitude and execution. It’s going to be a fun game to play in. It’s going to be a tough, hard-nosed football game.”
The Packers are, no doubt, knocking on wood hoping they don’t suffer any more injuries along the offensive line. But just in case, they signed third-year free agent tackle Herb Taylor to the 53-man roster this week.
McCarthy said Taylor has a very good chance of being active for the Christmas Day game, and as a tackle, he’ll likely have to enter the game if either Lang or left tackle Marshall Newhouse get hurt.
Having been signed on Tuesday, Taylor only has three more days to get ready to face the Bears.
“Everybody here is positive,” said Taylor. “They have one goal in mind, and that’s winning the Super Bowl. The atmosphere here is great. Everybody is kind of accepting me and trying to help me along, so I can help us anyway I can.”
One player the Packers can’t rely upon for Sunday is Chad Clifton. Although he returned to practice for the first time since Week 5 when he sustained a hamstring injury, Clifton participated in only individual drills on Wednesday, and McCarthy he’s not quite ready to return.
So without Clifton, Bulaga and Sherrod, offensive line coach James Campen is charged with the burden of prepping Taylor and the rest of the new-look offensive line to get ready for the Bears.
“James Campen spent a bunch of time with (Taylor) Tuesday,” said McCarthy. “We’ll max out our time and preparation to get him ready.”
With home-field advantage still at stake and the health of the team of utmost importance as the Packers get ready to enter the playoffs, the challenge facing the offensive line is a daunting one.