The Green Bay Packers won’t get all of their injured starters back this week, but they’ll have one: Two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Greg Jennings.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said during a Tuesday evening press conference that the question with Jennings, who has missed the team’s last seven games and eight of their last 10, is how many snaps he’ll be able to handle against the Minnesota Vikings Sunday at Lambeau Field.
Jennings underwent core muscle injury surgery on Nov. 1 to repair a lower abdominal muscle tear that has bothered him since he first injured it near the end of the Sept. 9 regular-season opener against San Francisco. McCarthy said Tuesday that he expects Jennings to be a full participant in practice Wednesday.
“Just talking with Greg Saturday and Sunday, I think he’s in a good place and he’s ready to (go),” McCarthy said. “He needs a full week of work, and that’s our plan.”
Jennings was in and out of the lineup during the first month of the season and has not played since catching a touchdown Sept. 30 in a victory over New Orleans.
“You also have to have the conversation of, how many plays is he going to play? That’s really what the week’s work is for,” McCarthy said. “We’ll see how it goes Wednesday. Because when guys come off injuries that hold them out of multiple weeks, multiple games, it’s important that we not only have Greg for Minnesota, but all the way through (the rest of the season). So that’s something we’ll watch Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and communicate.”
Jennings practiced all three days last week and proclaimed himself “ready” last Friday, but was inactive for the team’s 38-10 loss to the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on Sunday night.
“As a player, every player wants to be out there and play. I’m no different. I want to go out there and play – especially if you feel good,” Jennings said last week. “But at the end of the day, I’m going to let them make the decision. I’m going to give my input, but it’ll be their decision, their call. We’ll see.”
While quarterback Aaron Rodgers has had Jordy Nelson, James Jones and emerging second-year man Randall Cobb in his arsenal, Jennings absence has been felt by the Packers offense, which ranks 18th in the NFL in yards per game (342.9) and 13th in scoring (24.8 points per game) after leading the NFL in scoring last season (35.0 points per game) and fifth in yardage (401.5 per game).
“Greg’s a dynamic player. He’s been to the Pro Bowl, he has an excellent working relationship with Aaron Rodgers, they’re on the same page,” McCarthy said. “Greg’s one of those receivers that’s extremely athletic, his body language is very easy to readjust to and Aaron has great confidence to throw to with anticipation. They have a lot of history together, a lot of production. It’d be great to have him back.”
The Packers have had trouble against teams playing predominantly Cover-2 defenses against them, and Jennings’ ability to get open on underneath routes as well as stretch the field would help.
“Obviously, he’s an outstanding player,” offensive coordinator Tom Clements said. “Anytime you get an outstanding player on the field, it makes the defense prepare a little bit differently and hopefully we can take advantage of a good player.”
Meanwhile, McCarthy did not update the status of 2011 first-round draft pick Derek Sherrod, who has been on the physically unable to perform list because of a broken lower leg suffered last Dec. 18 at Kansas City, or veteran running back Cedric Benson, who suffered a Lisfranc foot sprain on Oct. 7 at Indianapolis and was placed on injured reserve with a designation to return. But McCarthy sounded an ominous tone on both players.
Benson, who was put on IR three days after the injury, was scheduled to visit a specialist in Charlotte, N.C., and after initially ruling out surgery, that possibility was reportedly still being considered last week. Benson is currently eligible to return to practice and could play Dec. 9 against Detroit per NFL IR rules. But McCarthy said he would not practice this week.
Asked if he thought the Packers would still get Benson back this season, McCarthy replied, “We’ll probably have some information for you tomorrow on Cedric Benson."
McCarthy said the team would have an announcement on Sherrod tomorrow, but according to the NFL’s official transaction wire, which is made available in part to reporters this year, Sherrod's PUP time expired. The wire stated that Sherrod "remains on Reserve/Physically Unable To Perform (List),” indicating he will not play this season.
The Packers’ offensive line is struggling in the wake of right tackle Bryan Bulaga’s season-ending hip injury Nov. 4, and the only remaining backups on the 53-man roster are undrafted rookie free agents Don Barclay and Greg Van Roten.
“(Sherrod) is at the point – he’s coming off a major injury – where you see progression throughout the week,” McCarthy said. “The padded practices is actually what he needs; (that) is probably where he looks the best. (The leg) has a chance to loosen up.
“He just needs more time. I thought he progressed each week and even within the week he got better.”
McCarthy also gave no indication on whether star outside linebacker Clay Matthews would return after missing two games with a Nov. 4 hamstring injury.
“Clay Matthews is an outstanding football player. He’s clearly one of the best defensive players in the whole National Football League,” McCarthy said. “He makes an impact every time he plays the game, with just the way the offense approaches him, his playmaking ability.
“We’ve been playing a few weeks without Clay. It’ll be great when we do get him back but team defense, team offense, team special teams -- it takes all 11 guys being coordinated. I felt that we were making good progress as a defense. We did not play our best game on Sunday. But it’ll be great when Clay does come back.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.