How’s that for stating the obvious? The injury bug has bitten the Green Bay Packers at the worst possible time.
Here’s where things stand: safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett are healthy. On the outside or in the slot, Micah Hyde and LaDarius Gunter are healthy enough.
The walking wounded are Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins, and Makinton Dorleant. Let’s face it: Dorleant is essentially a practice squad guy, and the other two have been playing like practice squad guys. If the Packers can find a fill-in or two, how much worse can they play than their two top picks of 2015 – and giving them the benefit of the doubt, especially when they aren’t healthy?
Unless we hear of a very favorable injury update on Rollins, I doubt the Packers would be inclined to take any risks in view of the kind of injury (neck) he had on Sunday. Mike McCarthy has sounded hopeful, but I suspect that is a ruse.
Other DB Options
I would doubt that the Packers would want to bring someone new on board at this stage – there’s too much coordination needed among the DBs to expect a non-Packer to capably come to the rescue. The different schemes and formations defensive coordinator Dom Capers uses have already resulted in numerous “miscommunications” between cornerbacks and safeties – many of which have resulted in long pass completions. That happened again against the Lions, but QB Matthew Stafford missed the throw.
In these desperate times, is there anyone left who might possibly help bail the team out?
Josh Hawkins – undrafted out of East Carolina, the rookie cornerback was signed last May – aided by two preseason interceptions, he impressed coaches enough to win one of the final roster spots. At 5’10”, 189 he has great 40-yard dash speed (4.39), and a fine vertical leap (40.5). He’s currently on the 53-man roster and was healthy, but regrettably was inactive against the Lions. Against Detroit in game 3, he gave up a 73-yd TD pass to Marvin Jones with a half minute left in the first half, and he’s been an outcast ever since
Herb Waters – the only cornerback currently on Packers practice squad – a receiver, and one-year starter, out of Miami. The Packers signed him in May and converted him to cornerback based on his skill set. At 5’11 ½”, 188 he’s said to have “deep speed” when a receiver – the longest of shots, but the Packers have been interested enough to keep him around all year and develop him. Waters is an unknown quantity who didn’t even record a stat in any preseason game
Robertson Daniel – undrafted cornerback out of BYU in 2015 – he’s bounced around on practice squads of Raiders, Packers, Redskins, and Ravens for two years. At 6’1”, 209 he has decent speed (4.46). Daniel has been on the Packers’ practice squad for most or all of 2015, momentarily on the active roster in January 2016 and was with Packers during 2016 preseason, but didn’t make final roster. Daniel was last with team as a practice squad player until September 27, 2016 and spent the final two months of the year on Ravens’ practice squad
Jermaine Whitehead – free safety, and the only safety currently on the team’s practice squad. He was undrafted out of Auburn in 2015. Whitehead has been with the 49ers and Ravens, then signed by Packers last May. At 5’11”, 195 he has a slow dash time of 4.59. Whitehead failed to make the final cut, was put on practice squad, briefly put on active roster in midseason but recorded no stats in two games, then finished out the year on practice squad
Marwin Evans – strong safety – yet another 2016 undrafted DB, out of Utah State. At 5’11”, 211 he has sufficient speed (4.47). Evans has stuck with the team all year, and has six special teams tackles, including one impressive one in the Detroit win. Evans is the likely fill-in for Morgan Burnett when he is moved from safety
Kentrell Brice – free safety – took 74 percent (49) of the defensive snaps against the Lions, and another 20 special teams snaps. Brice totaled five tackles in the game. At 5’11’, 200 Brice is perhaps the fastest Packers DB, at anywhere from 4.38 to 4.44 dash speed. He’s the the most physical tackler among Packers DBs and his playing time has steadily increased throughout the year
Prospects for Sunday’s Game
I expect to see Josh Hawkins active and getting considerable playing time as a cornerback on Sunday. The Packers obviously had increasing confidence in him until the first Detroit game, and he has better athleticism than any of the team’s starting DBs. In hindsight, he should have been active against the Lions last week, especially since Green Bay was playing several already-injured DBs. Given his athleticism, it might be worth trying to see how he matches up (with safety help) against Odell Beckham, Jr., far and away the Giants’ most potent receiver. Gunter is the only other matchup possibility I see, but the speed differential (4.43 vs. 4.69) terrifies me.
It’s likely that Morgan Burnett will be moved from safety to cornerback or slotback on a play-by-play basis, with Evans being the likely sub at safety.
We’ll surely see a lot of Kentrell Brice, and in a variety of roles, as we did against the Lions as the injuries piled up.
Daniel and Whitehead appear to be marginal players, not what you want to play major roles in a postseason game. Waters, largely unknown to all but the coaching staff, is still under development.
I expect the Packers to be changing personnel, or the positions they are playing, on a lot of plays – and hopefully trying to disguise the formations until the last second.
These are scary times, but great opportunities for Brice, Hawkins, and Evans to come through in the next-man-up tradition.
The Packers aren’t going to help out the Giants by disclosing how bad the injuries to their DBs are, or who the Packers are planning to send onto the field on Sunday. Don’t believe a thing you hear all week coming out of the Packers front office or from the players. We’ll all have to just wait and see – and hope.
Is Charles Woodson still on NFL Countdown on ESPN? Has he stayed in shape? Pick up the phone, Ted Thompson!