GREEN BAY — Even as his team was in the throes of its five-game losing streak, Aaron Rodgers kept the faith — at least publicly — things could turn around quickly.
The Green Bay Packers quarterback, downplaying any disappointment he’d felt at the trade deadline when general manager Brian Gutekunst wasn’t able to seal deals for ex-Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Chase Claypool (now with the Chicago Bears) or Las Vegas Raiders tight end Darren Waller (now on the Raiders’ injured reserve list), said repeatedly he believed the Packers had enough talent on the existing roster to reinsert themselves into the NFC playoff chase.
But there was one caveat he made sure he included: health — from making sure the team’s two best offensive linemen, left tackle David Bakhtiari and left guard Elgton Jenkins, could stay on the field as they continued their comebacks from long-term knee injuries; to having his full complement of wide receivers at his disposal, getting veteran Randall Cobb and rookie Romeo Doubs back from their respective high-ankle sprains in particular; to keeping the defense’s front-line players healthy.
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“I do feel like we need to get healthy. When we’re at our full strength, which we really haven’t been this season — whether it’s been Dave not playing early in the season, Elgton not playing early in the season, we haven’t really had the 11 we thought like we were going to play with for an extended time,” Rodgers had said. “When we get those guys, I feel like we have the team to get the job done.”
As the 4-7 Packers returned from their mini-bye and got back to full-fledged practice work on Wednesday in advance of Sunday’s road matchup with the 9-1 Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field, they did so with precious few positive developments coming out of the training room.
Doubs, out since going down on the opening drive of the team’s Nov. 6 loss at Detroit
- , remained sidelined. Although fellow rookie Christian Watson has burst onto the scene with five touchdowns in the past two games — after missing three games with a hamstring injury and parts of two others while in the concussion protocol — the rookie duo has scarcely played together this season because of their respective injuries.
Asked if there was reason to think Doubs, who had caught 31 passes for 314 yards and three touchdowns before his injury, might be back for the Eagles, coach Matt LaFleur replied in part, “I’m not ready to bank on that yet.”
- Inside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, a first-team All-Pro selection last year who hasn’t played since suffering a right knee injury in the team’s Oct. 30 loss at Buffalo, was only doing rehabilitation work during the portion of practice open to the media. With two key starters on IR and done for the year — star edge rusher Rashan Gary (knee) and No. 2 cornerback Eric Stokes (ankle) — getting Campbell back would give the up-and-down unit a much-needed lift, even as he wasn’t playing at his All-Pro level before his injury.
LaFleur had said last week the team was hoping Campbell might be able to return in time for the Dallas game, but that didn’t happen. Unwilling to then rush him back on a short week against the Titans, Campbell missed his third straight game. The fact that he didn’t practice Wednesday isn’t encouraging.
“It’s one of those injuries where we’ve just got to wait and see day-to-day,” LaFleur said last week.
- Neither Bakhtiari nor Jenkins was practicing, though given that they were both able to play all the snaps in the Packers’ Nov. 13 win over Dallas and in last Thursday’s loss to Tennessee despite the quick turnaround, taking a cautious approach with them during the week makes sense.
- Rodgers, who has been unwilling to discuss the specifics of the right (throwing) thumb injury that has been an issue since he hurt it on the aborted Hail Mary play at the end of the team’s Oct. 9 loss to the New York Giants in London, was practicing with this thumb taped, though he has practiced on past Wednesdays, which means his participation isn’t necessarily a sign that a couple days off led to any meaningful improvement in the thumb.
“Nothing’s changed week to week. It wasn’t like it got better one week and then got worse another week,” Rodgers said on “The Pat McAfee Show” on Tuesday when asked why the thumb didn’t seem to bother him against the Cowboys but then looked to be an issue on multiple errant throws against the Titans. “It goes through things each week. … But it’s not an excuse; I’m not going to use it as an excuse. It is what it is. I suit up every week and expect to play well.
- And, during the portion of practice open to reporters, safety Rudy Ford, who had two interceptions against the Cowboys and has become a valuable contributor on defense in addition to his special-teams work, was out with an illness.
Comparatively speaking, of course, the Packers are hardly the NFL’s most banged-up team. They have only four players on IR at the moment (Gary, Stokes, backup center/guard Jake Hanson and backup outside linebacker Tipa Galeai, who has been designated for return) and have had far greater problems this season than just injury-related misfortune.
But for a team with virtually no margin for error in its final six games, getting healthier — and staying that way — would surely help.
“This is the team with the top record in the National Football League right now. If you can’t get excited for this, going into a hostile environment in Philly on ‘Sunday Night Football,’ then you probably shouldn’t be doing this,” LaFleur said before Wednesday’s practice.
“I believe in that locker room. I know a lot of things haven’t gone our way up to this point, but I still have a ton of faith and belief in that locker room. It’s so important that when you do face adversity, that you stick together. We win as a team and we lose as a team, and that’s just the nature of it.
“Certainly, it does get more of a challenge to stay positive when you’ve faced a little bit more adversity, but you’ve got to find the bright spots in every situation. But at the same time, you’ve got to be honest about it, too. You’ve always got to get to the truth, because if you can’t get to the truth, it’s hard to improve.”
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