It’s not time to panic yet, but comments here on Total Packers show a lot of apprehension that injuries might dim the soaring hopes that have come with the overdue coaching change, some exciting draft choices, and the team’s costly free agent acquisitions.
After a knee injury ended the 2018 season for running back Aaron Jones, it’s alarming that he’s already had to sit out most of the first two weeks of training camp. With the run game being the foundation of Coach La Fleur’s offense, Aaron’s injury issues could be devastating.
The Packers haven’t said much about Jones, who’s been out for over a week with hamstring “tightness.” They’ve definitely been cautious in holding him out from practice, to keep a minor problem from become major.
Then there’s his running mate, Jamaal Williams, who is also dealing with hamstring problems. After missing four practices in late July, Williams is felt to have the more serious injury. His timetable to return is “not yet clear.”
Should the Packers’ backfield mainstays from last year start missing action, it does open up opportunities for two even less experienced offensive backs. First, there is Dexter Williams, the sixth-round pick out of Notre Dame. Many, myself included, consider him a steal – he’s lightning quick at making his initial cut, and he has the speed to turn routine runs into big plays.
The other option is fourth-year pro Danny Vitale. He’s a great prospect, as he’s an adept lead blocker and receiver. If he’s the only back alongside Aaron Rodgers, however, he’s seldom been used as a rushing threat, whether in the pros or when playing for Northwestern.
Switching to the defense, Kevin King, the cornerback with so much ability, has missed over half the games in his two years with the Packers. In 2017, he wound up on injured reserve after dislocating his shoulder a number of times. After winning a starting job in 2018, he missed two early games with a groin injury, and then missed another four games with a hamstring injury, before again being placed on injured reserve for the rest of the season.
This time around, King was healthy all the way up to the Family Night scrimmage on August 2. GM Brian Gutekunst hastened to assure worried fans, saying: “It sounds like he’s going to be OK and it shouldn’t be a long-term thing.” The Packers also indicated they don’t think the current injury is related to last year’s issues. We’ll have to await more clarity on King’s status. To date, using the 33nd overall draft choice on the University of Washington product has not provided a decent pay off.
Unlike during the regular season, the Packers aren’t required to, and do not, provide a formal weekly injury report, so reports of most injuries come out in drips and dabs.
We do know that Josh Jackson, another high-round cornerback draftee (45th overall in 2018), has missed all of training camp so far with a non-football foot injury. In his rookie season, Jackson appeared in all 16 games, with 49 tackles, 10 passes defended, one fumble recovery and a special teams touchdown – so any missed games by him would be a serious loss.
Most other reported injuries have been minor: S Darnell Savage missed a few days after having wisdom teeth removed just before training camp began; TE Jace Sternberger was evaluated for a concussion after the first joint practice with the Houston Texans on Monday; center Corey Linsley missed practice on Monday with a biceps injury; DL Fadol Brown has missed some time due to a calf injury; LB Preston Smith missed team drills on Tuesday due to back tightness; LB Kendall Donnerson has been dealing with a hamstring injury, and WR Jake Kumerow is nursing a sore pinky finger.
Finally, Corey Grant, a running back acquired from the Jaguars on July 26, is still recovering from a Lisfranc (foot) injury that ended his 2018 season. Should the fifth-year pro return to full health, imagine the Packers finding themselves with a running back and kick returner with 4.24 – 4.30 dash speed, as variously clocked at a Pro Day at Auburn in 2015.
It’s not the number of injuries, or even their severity that has Packers fans concerned. It’s that they’ve beset some key cogs in the Packers machinery: Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams on offense, and Kevin King and Josh Jackson on defense. In the cases of Jones and King, both third-year pros have troubling NFL injury records: in addition to playing with injuries, Jones has entirely missed eight of 32 games, and King has only appeared in 15 of his 32 games.