GREEN BAY – While the Green Bay Packers had hoped to get four injured starters back this week, it appears they’ll only be getting half their wish.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday that outside linebacker Clay Matthews (hamstring) and left guard/right tackle T.J Lang (ankle) are probable for Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears, but that wide receiver Jordy Nelson (hamstring) is “a longshot” to play and safety Charles Woodson has been ruled out (collarbone).
Neither McCarthy nor his players usually talk at length about injury news, but on Wednesday they made an exception.
Woodson, who suffered a broken collarbone in the Packers’ Oct. 21 victory over the St. Louis Rams, was originally slated to return in “approximately” six weeks. Now, six games and one bye week later, McCarthy said Woodson is ready to play, but team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie and the rest of the Packers’ medical staff feel that “it isn’t in Charles’ best interest to play in this game.”
“Charles was ready to play, he's ready to go,” McCarthy said. “But based on the information over the last two days, we're going to hold him out of the game. Trust me, that's not easy. He's been preparing himself. He practiced last week. I know he's extremely frustrated.”
Instead, McCarthy said Woodson is continuing to rehab, which is what he was doing in lieu of practice on Wednesday. Woodson was not in the locker room after practice and did not speak with reporters.
Matthews, on the other hand, practiced Wednesday for the first time since he pulled his hamstring in the Packers’ 31-17 victory over Arizona on Nov. 4. The next day, McCarthy estimated that the outside linebacker would miss “a couple weeks.” More than a month later, Matthews said that it was nice to finally be out on the practice field.
“(I) feel good,” Matthews said. “It was nice to get out there back with the team today back practicing. Coming back from an injury, we’ll obviously limit the reps and increase them as the week goes on.”
Despite a significant number of injuries on defense, the Packers have gone 5-1 since Woodson’s injury and 3-1 since Matthews got hurt. Matthews said this “speaks volumes” about the direction the team is heading.
“It’s tough, first and foremost, not being able to contribute, especially with tight games both against Detroit, unfortunately the loss against New York and then giving up a few too many yards to Minnesota,” Matthews said. “You’d like to think you could change the effect on some of those plays and some of the calls.
“But ultimately, they did a fantastic job stepping up not only in my absence but in a lot of the injuries we sustained as of late. Hopefully we’ll have guys coming back, myself, Charles, C.J., to help this defense out. But 3-1 speaks for itself.”
On the other side of the ball, it appears Nelson will not play on Sunday, despite McCarthy saying on Monday he was “hopeful” Nelson could return this week. Two days later, McCarthy said Nelson was a “long shot,” based on tests from the past two days.
Nelson has injured his hamstring twice this season. The first time was in practice on Oct. 24, causing him to miss the Packers’ Week 8 victory over Jacksonville. He started the following week, but sprained his ankle in early in the Packers’ victory over the Cardinals. He did not miss another game because the Packers had their bye the following week, but he reinjured his hamstring on the second drive of the Packers’ Dec. 2 victory over Minnesota. He hasn’t practiced since.
Lang, who sprained his ankle against the Vikings, was active in Sunday night’s game in the case of an emergency. He said, however, that he was happy it didn’t come to that.
“If I had to I probably could struggled through,” Lang said. “I was confident in being dressed, I don’t know where my confidence level would have been (if I had played). I hadn’t tested the ankle out, missing practice last week, it was something I was a little up in the air about.”
“It was a best-case scenario to get me an extra game day to heal and not get it banged up again be close to full recovered this week. Those guys who played in that game last week they all played well. I wanted to be on the field, but it was probably the best decision to sit out.”
Lang said he worked “at a few different spots” in practice Wednesday but added that “most of them (were) inside” at guard, his natural position. That would indicate that the Packers plan to move him back to left guard and give rookie Don Barclay his second start at right tackle.
“I'd be lying to you if I told you it didn't feel good to be back there. Obviously that's where I've played most of my games here and that's probably the most comfortable spot where I feel like I can play.
Despite the injuries, the players still are living by the “next man up” mantra. Lang said those who’ve been stepping up have made those coming back from injury better players.
“When somebody goes down with an injury or what have it, somebody steps up and play well, that also adds some competition for guys who are coming back,” Lang said. “It’s fair to the other who’s playing well to give him a shot, too. It’s a competition, we all know that, it makes everybody better.
“It’s something we’ve become very accustomed to with the injury situation, young guys step up and that gives you comfort as a team knowing that you have a solid group of players that can come in anytime. It adds to the competition level and helps make you a better player.”
Sarah Barshop covers the Packers for ESPNWisconsin.com. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/sarahbarshop.