Aaron Rodgers runs onto the field prior to the Family Night practice at Lambeau Field. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports photograph

Packers Family Night Scrimmage: Is it Worth It?

I exhaled Saturday night when the Green Bay Packers reported there weren’t any major injuries during their annual Family Night Scrimmage.

Though I enjoy getting a first glimpse of the team every year when the intra-squad scrimmage rolls around, I watched the live game simulation nervously as Packers hit Packers, crossing my fingers that one of the team’s key players didn’t limp off the field with a major injury (see where I’m going with this).

The Packers Family Night is a big hit every year in Green Bay – this year not being any different. In front of a record crowd of 63,000-plus fans, the Packers had another successful scrimmage, or so we thought.

There was tailgating, fans from around the state in attendance, team introductions, young players on the roster making plays on the field, excitement in the stands, and postgame fireworks.

Oh and wait, a torn ACL.

I wince just typing these words.

It was reported on Sunday, just a day after Family Night, that Packers starting left tackle Bryan Bulaga may have suffered a torn ACL during the scrimmage. This report was confirmed by sources this morning, and it appears Bulaga will be lost for the season.

Bryan Bulaga. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports photograph

This injury is a major blow to a Packers team that pegged Bulaga as the answer for protecting Aaron Rodgers’s blindside and cutting down on the number of sacks the team allows during the season. This grim news also undermines the Packers strategy for rearranging the offensive line this offseason—Bulaga being the central piece to that plan at left tackle.

This is the type of injury I’m sure general manager Ted Thompson feared all along with an intra-squad full-contact scrimmage.  When asked about his thoughts of Family Night in his latest press conference, Thompson even stated that he appreciates the festivities and fan support, but he’s not a big fan of Packers playing Packers.

I have to say, I’m with Thompson on this one, and the recent news about Bulaga only reaffirms my apprehension about the Packers Family Night. An intra-squad scrimmage only doubles the risk of injury, and even though it’s uncertain on the specific play Bulaga’s injury occurred, exposing your players to more full-contact than is necessary seems risky in today’s NFL.

Granted, this is a topic I personally feel conflicted about. On the one hand, I miss the old training camp format with live tackling practices on a regular basis and two-a-days separating the good players from the average players.

I enjoyed visiting Packers camp and watching linebackers take backs down to the ground or safeties delivering hard hits to receivers crossing over the middle of the field. These practices were much more entertaining to watch than today’s half-measured and overly cautious approach to practice.

However, surviving injuries seems to be the name of the game in today’s NFL and the old style of training camp just doesn’t work with that format.

Key positions like quarterback, left tackle, and edge rusher are just way too vital for a team to have success in today’s NFL to risk suffering a major injury at one of these key positions.

Now I don’t want to overreact and say the Packers season is in jeopardy because they lost their starting left tackle. They still have Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, and a number of really talented players, but the loss is still significant—especially if we consider the importance of the position and how thin the offensive line was already looking before Bulaga’s injury.

So what am I suggesting? Getting rid of the Packers Family Night Scrimmage all together? Maybe. Or perhaps just changing the format.

Green Bay Packers fans hold up signs during the Family Night scrimmage. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports photograph

I know there is a lot of monetary gain for the franchise from the night’s events and the scrimmage gives the coaches an added look at their young players in a game situation, but at what cost?

I don’t foresee the scrimmage going anywhere any time soon. It’s become too big of an event for the fans and franchise, but what about making some changes to prevent things like Bulaga’s injury from happening again?

Back in 2005, the Packers brought in the Buffalo Bills to scrimmage against during Family Night. The experiment was rather successful and gave the team similar results as an instar-squad scrimmage, but without having Packers hit Packers. Could the Packers bring in non-conference teams to scrimmage against? This would cut down the risk of injury in half, but some may argue this wouldn’t be any different than having another preseason game.

What if the Packers sat out their starters for the scrimmage, and only the reserves suited up? This would give guys on the team fighting for roster spots additional opportunities to showcase what they can do, and would avoid risking injury to key players on the roster. But would fans pay to watch this if they knew stars like Rodgers, Matthews, and Cobb won’t even be on the field?

You see the dilemma here. What do you think Packers nation? Is the Packers Family Night Scrimmage worth it?

Because after the Bulaga injury, I’m not so sure anymore.

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