GREEN BAY, Wis. – Jaire Alexander, Za’Darius Smith and David Bakhtiari “potentially” could return to practice this week, coach Matt LaFleur said.
“You know, certainly we hope so,” LaFleur said on Monday, with the team back from its bye week. “Those guys are doing everything in their power, but we’ll see where we’re at on Wednesday and you guys will get updated then.”
Getting back the team’s All-Pro cornerback, All-Pro left tackle and Pro Bowl outside linebacker, to state the obvious, would be a huge lift to a team that is 9-3 and one game behind Arizona for the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs with five games remaining. Combined, they’ve played five of a possible 36 games.
That they could practice on Wednesday is a good sign but it’s not a certainty that any of them will actually play this season.
A source close to one of the players said “they’re just stepping up the rehab” of his injury by giving him practice reps.
“If it’s still painful, he won’t play. The team just wants to do more on-the-field stuff to better gauge” his comeback and determine whether a return to game action is possible, he said.
Alexander suffered a shoulder injury on his big stick of burly Steelers running back Najee Harris in Week 4. Even without one of the NFL’s top cover men for the past eight games, Green Bay is No. 8 in opponent passer rating. It is fifth in yards per attempt, sixth in 20-yard passes allowed, eighth in completion percentage, 10th in yards per completion and 12th in interception percentage.
First-round pick Eric Stokes and journeyman Rasul Douglas have been front and center in Green Bay’s quality play against the pass.
“You can never have enough great players, but our corners have done an outstanding job,” LaFleur said. “A lot of credit goes to each individual but Jerry (Gray) and Ryan Downard and Justin Hood do a great job with those guys and get them ready to play. Definitely have been really excited about guys like Rasul Douglas. I think Stokes continues to get better each and every week. Kevin King, when he’s healthy and he’s been in there, I think he’s done a really nice job. He’s another guy that we’ve got to get back into the fold. And I also think guys at the nickel position, Sully’s [Chandon Sullivan] done a great job, as well.”
Bakhtiari returned to practice on Oct. 20, however, his surgically repaired left knee needed a minor procedure a couple weeks ago. The goal of that surgery was to get Bakhtiari over the hump on his recovery from the ACL tear sustained on New Year's Eve.
Elgton Jenkins capably replaced Bakhtiari for eight games but he suffered a torn ACL late in the loss at Minnesota two weeks ago. Yosh Nijman got the start – his fourth of the year – and played well in their place last week against the Rams.
Smith practiced only once during training camp. He gave it a go for the regular-season opener against New Orleans and played 18 snaps off the bench. However, he never felt quite right and had back surgery in late September.
In 2019 and 2010, Smith was third in the NFL with 26 sacks, second with 60 quarterback hits and 11th with six forced fumbles.
“These guys love the game,” LaFleur said. “They love being with their teammates, they love competing, so I know that they're itching to get back as soon as possible. We just want to make sure that there's no extra risk for a setback or whatnot because they're an important part of this team and if we can get these guys back, there's certainly no guarantees with that, but we're hopeful that we can get each one of those guys back.”
Meanwhile, LaFleur said quarterback Aaron Rodgers “to my knowledge” didn’t have toe surgery during the bye. The team hopes he’ll be able to practice this week, which he was unable to do before the game against Los Angeles.
Packers Playoff Bye Week Injury Report: Mercilus Returns
Whitney Mercilus told defensive coordinator Joe Barry that he'd be back. On Thursday, he returned after a two-month absence.
On Saturday, the team activated outside linebacker Jonathan Garvin from the COVID list. Inside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell remains on that list. So long as he’s healthy – LaFleur said Campbell is asymptomatic – he could be available for Sunday night’s game against Chicago.
“We’ll make sure that we incorporate him throughout our game plan meetings through Zoom, and he’ll be a big part of it,” LaFleur said.
Rookie center Josh Myers “needs a little bit more time,” LaFleur said, before he’s able to return following knee surgery.