The Green Bay Packers will get cornerback Al Harris, safety Atari Bigby and running back James Starks back this week.
All three players have been on the physically unable to perform list since the beginning of the season and this week is the first they are eligible to return to practice. Coach Mike McCarthy said all three will practice on Wednesday.
“We’re going to start practicing all three guys coming off of PUP, and frankly, just want to see them out there in the group drills, in the team drills and just see where they are. Because they can’t do any more than they’ve done from a rehab standpoint,” he said. “So it’s time to cut those guys loose. I know they’re excited about it, and we’re excited to get them on the practice field.”
Early reports suggest both Harris and Bigby could be ready to play this week, which is good news for the Packers defense.
Harris said weeks ago that when he was cleared to practice he would be ready to play that week. He said he’s been around too long to need a lot of practice time and that his rehab has been constructed around him being ready to play, not practice.
Bigby has taken the same approach as Harris, but his ankle surgery is more recent than Harris’ knee surgery and it remains to be seen whether he’ll be able to withstand the pounding his ankle will take in full speed football. He did say several weeks ago that since having the surgery he has been pain free.
Harris is likely to step in as the nickel cornerback, pushing rookie Sam Shields to the dime slot. Although Harris started ahead of Tramon Williams last season, Williams has been the Packers most consistent cornerback, this season.
On the season, Williams has 24 tackles, two interceptions and a sack.
While Harris, who had surgery on his knee during the 2009 season, can probably take on a heavy workload, Bigby, who had surgery on his ankle in August, is more of a question mark. The Packers are unlikely to give him a large role immediately and there is a chance he isn’t fully recovered from the injury, as the trade for safety Anthony Smith may indicate.
Starks is an even bigger question mark. The running back missed his entire senior season at Buffalo with a shoulder injury and missed all of the Packers’ offseason program and training camp with a hamstring injury.
He hasn’t even played football in more than a year and hasn’t been fully acclimated to the Packers system.
The Packers now have three weeks to determine if they will activate the players, put them on injured reserve or release them.