The Green Bay Packers suffered quite a few roster casualties during the preseason. They lost both Bryan Bulaga and DuJuan Harris for the year, and key contributors from last season, like corners Casey Hayward and Tramon Williams, also missed a significant amount of time because of injuries. Not to forget starting wide receivers Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson.
For a second straight season, the Packers preseason injury list has been a long one. Green Bay really felt the roster attrition when starters Morgan Burnett and Brad Jones left the third preseason game against Seattle with hamstring injuries. Hayward reinjured the same hamstring that kept him out of the first two weeks of camp. All three defensive players were expected to play vital roles on defense this year. Special teams ace Jarrett Bush also left the game early with an ankle injury and sat out the rest of the preseason.
Despite Hayward’s status being up in the air for the Packers season opener against the San Francisco 49ers, Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press Gazette reported that Burnett, Jones, and Bush all returned to practice on Monday and should play on Sunday when the Packers take the field against the 49ers in San Francisco for the season opener. It’s also reported that Nelson is expected back for the season opener.
An official injury report will be released by the team later in the week, but Burnett and Jones’ early return to practice is a good sign for the Packers. Some suspected Burnett could miss up to a few weeks with the hamstring injury, leading to Green Bay starting both M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian in the season opener.
Burnett’s ability to quarterback the secondary cannot be understated. He’s valuable to the defense and is responsible for making all the coverage adjustments on the field. Burnett also has potential as a playmaker at safety and is poised for a breakout season. The Packers will need Burnett’s leadership in their young secondary when facing Colin Kaepernick and the high-powered and rugged 49ers’ offense.
There wasn’t as much concern over Jones’ hamstring injury heading into this week, but the Packers still rested him at the end of the preseason. His return to practice this week is still something to note.
Jones is an emerging player on the Packers defense. He is a reliable inside linebacker with the athleticism and speed to be the lone backer in the Packers dime defense. Jones will shoulder a majority of the responsibility for keeping Kaepernick in check on passing downs. The Packers can’t afford for Kaepernick to scramble out of the pocket like he did in last year’s playoff loss.
In other injury news, it looks like both Nelson and Cobb are ready to go for the season opener. They each only played a few snaps in the Packers preseason finale after not suiting up for the other three exhibition games. These few looks were just enough to show the team both receivers are ready to play for the regular season.
With the loss of veteran receiver Greg Jennings in free agency, the Packers will need both Cobb and Nelson in the lineup to get some production out of the receiving group. Cobb and Nelson join James Jones and tight end Jermichael Finley to form a formidable group of pass catchers for Green Bay this season.