GREEN BAY – In Mike Trgovac’s ideal world, Green Bay Packers fans wouldn’t hear the name Jordan Miller during Sunday night’s game against the Detroit Lions.
But the NFL is rarely a league where coaches get what they want, especially when it comes to injuries. And for Trgovac, the Packers defensive line coach, that’s certainly the case this week.
Trgovac will be without at least one and probably two of his top six defensive linemen at Lambeau Field – end C.J. Wilson (knee) has already been ruled out, and end Mike Neal (shoulder) is listed as doubtful – and activating Miller from the practice squad is a possibility. The Packers will have to make a move Saturday if they decide to promote Miller, but complicating matters is the offensive line situation.
Left guard/right tackle T.J. Lang is questionable with an ankle injury, and veteran center Jeff Saturday is probable with a foot injury. While Saturday will play, if Lang can’t go, the Packers would have only one backup offensive lineman, rookie Greg Van Roten.
No wonder coach Mike McCarthy said “If we have four, we go with four” when asked about the defensive line options earlier this week.
“I think the other guys just have to step up,” Trgovac said Friday of his reduced numbers. “You have to be smart in your rotations.”
When the Packers and Lions played on Nov. 18, the Packers had all six defensive linemen active. But as of Friday, the only sure things were B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, Mike Daniels and Jerel Worthy.
Wilson will miss a second straight week with a knee injury he suffered against the New York Giants on Nov. 25, and while McCarthy said Neal’s injury wasn’t as severe as first feared, he’s a longshot to play as well.
The 6-foot-1, 309-pound Miller, a defensive tackle who was signed to the Packers’ practice squad back on Oct. 23, is a big body who could help a run defense that was shredded by Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson for 210 yards last Sunday.
“Jordan’s a good football player,” Trgovac said Friday afternoon. “I like Jordan Miller. I had a long talk with him (Friday) about making sure he’s not in practice-squad mode – that he’s learning the defenses. Some guys get on the practice squad and they sit there and watch everything but they don’t hear and listen to everything. I like Jordan Miller as a football player. Now, I’ve never seen him in a game so that remains to be seen, but he’s a good football player.”
Miller entered the league with the Chicago Bears in 2011 as an undrafted free agent from Southern University and spent the first 15 games of last season on the Bears’ practice squad before being signed to the Bears’ 53-man roster for the season finale (for which he was a game-day inactive). He was with the Bears this summer before being released on Aug. 31.
“I feel like I am (ready). I’ve prepared all week to make sure I know what I’m doing if my name is called,” Miller said Friday. “It’s been a long time coming, man. If it was to happen this week, it would be a blessing. I’ve been working hard for some time now. It would be great.”
Even if Miller is activated, Trgovac is going to rely on the other four defensive linemen to likely play more than they normally would.
When all six linemen were healthy and active against the Lions three weeks ago, Raji played 51 snaps (68 percent of the defensive plays), the most among linemen. Against the Giants, he played 53 of 65 snaps (82 percent), and against the Vikings, he played 44 of 55 snaps (80 percent). Before those two games, Raji hadn’t hit the 80 percent playing-time mark all season.
“When you look at last week, he was (at) 80 percent but we had some long drives (by the offense). So I took him out of the game and he got pissed at me,” Trgovac said. “That’s not an overly exorbitant amount for him.
“Sometimes, like everything in the world, numbers can lie.”
One thing that could help the Packers’ thin line is the Lions’ lack of a commitment to the run, which allows the Packers go use their nickel and dime packages with only two defensive linemen. In their first matchup, the Lions ran the ball only 24 times in their 68 plays, and the Packers didn’t play any of their base “Okie” defense.
“Obviously this is a team we’ve played a lot of nickel against, but they can dictate that too with their personnel they put out there,” Trgovac said. “You just have to keep mixing guys and keep them fresh.”
That’s the goal for the stretch run with Raji and Pickett, who need to be fresh late in the season. That means more playing time for the rookies, Worthy and Daniels.
“Me and Mike have filled in key roles this year,” Worthy said. “I’ve started a few games. It’s not really anything new to us. Just more opportunities for us to get better early on in our careers and we just have to be ready to take advantage of it.
“We condition ourselves real hard in practice to where we’ll be ready to go when the time comes. Coach (Trgovac) tries to put us in a lot of uncomfortable situations during practice. That way, when the game comes, it’s a lot easier than how it was in practice. We’ll be ready to go.”
Zach Heilprin covers the Packers for WBEV and WXRO radio in Beaver Dam, sister stations of ESPNWisconsin. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/zachheilprin.