As the Green Bay Packers’ injuries began to pile up, quite a few people thought the wheels were about to fall off.
The Packers currently have 10 players on injured reserve, five of which are starters, eight of which play defense. While Ryan Grant and the Packers lack of a certifiable running game was the early concern, the defense became the bigger issue as the injuries piled up.
In addition to the eight defenders on injured reserve — including starters Nick Barnett, Morgan Burnett, Brad Jones and key reserve Mike Neal — Brandon Chillar and Ryan Pickett have missed extended periods and Cullen Jenkins missed one game.
It all added up to some unlikely starters on the Packers defense, which seems to have hit its stride in consecutive wins over the Minnesota Vikings and New York Jets, despite their patchwork starting lineup.
We talked about the impact of inside linebacker Desmond Bishop earlier today, but the Packers have been getting real contributions from some even less likely sources.
Three players who deserve to be singled out for making major contributions are rookie defensive end C.J. Wilson, safety Charlie Peprah and recently-acquired defensive lineman Howard Green.
Prior to the season, none were expected to be major contributors for the Packers or in Green’s case, his previous team, the New York Jets. That’s changed out of necessity and just as quickly as I trashed the coaching staff for not getting Bishop on the field sooner, I’ll praise them for developing and preparing these three guys to play significant and valuable minutes.
Wilson, a rookie seventh-round draft choice, wasn’t supposed to be a contributor, this season. That changed when Pickett went down with an ankle injury. With Neal on injured reserve, Wilson was thrust into a starting role.
Despite his size (6-3, 290), which is quite a bit smaller than a prototypical 3-4 defensive end, Wilson has been the Packers most active defensive end late in the three games in which he’s played extensively. In those three games, he has 15 tackles, with the highlight coming in an eight-tackle performance against Minnesota.
By comparison, Jenkins has only 13 total tackles on the season and Pickett has eight.
Despite some rough early moments, Peprah has come on, as well. The low point came in Peprah’s first start, when he was twice burned on deep passes against the Washington Redskins, but he’s steadily improved since.
Although Peprah wasn’t much better in coverage in his second start against Miami, he did rack up 11 tackles. Against Minnesota, Peprah came into his own, recording six tackles and defending one pass, but more importantly, consistently doing his job in coverage. Against the Jets, he played ever better, with four tackles and two crucial pass breakups against receiver Jerricho Cotchery late in the fourth quarter.
Kevin Seifert called Peprah’s breakups the decisive moments of the Packers’ win. Peprah now has 26 tackles on the season, which more than doubles his previous season high. It’s also eight more than Burnett had in four starts, this season.
Green was acquired by the Packers via waivers, last week. Granted, he’s played only one game for the team, but he played significant minutes and did exactly what he was supposed to do — occupy blockers with his big body (6-2, 365).
Green’s presence allowed the Packers to spell some of their other defensive linemen and his ability to take on two blockers freed up linebackers like Bishop, who had 10 tackles, to make plays. Green also recorded two tackles himself and made the highlight reel by blowing up a LaDainian Tomlinson to Cotchery reverse.
Despite the solid showing by all three players, it’s possible, even likely, they’ll all end up on the bench this week.
Atari Bigby is expected to be activated from the physically unable to perform list this week and could take Peprah’s starting safety spot. When Pickett returns, Wilson will be pushed out of the starting lineup and Green will be pushed further down the rotation.
Although Wilson and Green will still log valuable minutes on the defensive line, where keeping guys fresh is of the utmost importance, Peprah probably won’t see the field outside of special teams. That is, unless the Packers believe Peprah has earned the right to continue as a starter.
However you slice it, these are good questions for the Packers to have and it looks like three guys who were previously unknowns can now be counted on to be valuable contributors, if not future starters.
For that, we commend the Packers brain trust.