Several players on the Green Bay Packers’ roster suffered notable injures on Thursday night as the team dealt with odd field conditions at IG Field in Winnipeg. With the game stopping at least six or seven times for Packers injuries, it appeared to be a good decision that Matt LaFleur held all of his starters out of the contest.
And although a few of those players returned to the game, there were several players who did not get back on the field after leaving it. Each of those absences — some of which should last well into the season — will impact the Packers’ 53-man roster decisions in different ways.
Here’s a look at how the Packers might respond to each of these injury situations.
OLB Rashan Gary
Thankfully, Gary does not appear to be seriously injured. The rookie first-round pick seemed to tweak his head or neck on a tackle in the second quarter of Thursday’s game, but he later tweeted out that he will be fine.
Reggie Gilbert and Kyler Fackrell seem to be competing for the OLB4 spot, with the loser no guarantee to make the team. However, if there is concern over Gary’s availability in the short term, the Packers would probably need to keep both of these players to ensure depth behind starters Za’Darius and Preston Smith.
G Cole Madison
Madison’s first training camp has been a struggle, as the 2018 fifth-round pick has been flagged for holding numerous times through three games. Now he is hurt, having suffered an injury on the first offensive snap of the third quarter. The nature and severity of the injury have been kept pretty quiet, however, so we don’t know just how significant it is.
Still, although Madison has struggled, he appears to be a player that the Packers still think highly of. He has not played anywhere near well enough to deserve a spot on the 53, so stashing him on injured reserve might actually be the best-case scenario. That way, the team could keep him in the organization for another year while not needing to use a 53-man roster spot on a player who was not one of the team’s nine or ten best linemen.
The team’s interior depth actually looks fairly solid right now, with Elgton Jenkins a lock and Justin McCray and Lucas Patrick fighting to make the team as versatile backups. Madison hopefully shouldn’t be needed this year anyway, so IR could be an ideal setup.
WR Equanimeous St. Brown
Lazard got banged up late in the game, when he was unable to haul in a great throw from DeShone Kizer, and he did not return. Thankfully for him, his injury does not appear serious, though it would be unfortunate timing if he were unable to return in time for the final preseason game next Thursday.
As for St. Brown, his injury is being reported as a high ankle sprain, which will likely keep him out around six weeks. Earlier today, APC’s Peter Bukowski discussed how his injury sets up the Packers to start the year with a more versatile and complementary group of skill sets at receiver. However, given this diagnosis, St. Brown seems to be a candidate to go on injured reserve after final cuts, making him eligible to return later on in 2019.
That surely forces the Packers to hold on to at least six receivers, including St. Brown. As of last night’s game, there are five other locks: Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Geronimo Allison, Jake Kumerow, and Trevor Davis. Darrius Shepherd and Lazard have been making great cases for roster spots as well, and the Packers did keep eight receivers on the opening roster a year ago, but that was with the intention of putting two of them on IR instead of just one. With St. Brown probably headed to IR after cuts, it is difficult to imagine the Packers keeping eight wideouts now, so his injury does not clear up the roster picture as much as fans may have initially thought on Thursday night.
If Lazard is healthy enough to play next week, he will need a good performance to vault over Shepherd and justify a spot on the 53 over a player at another position. If Shepherd impresses yet again, he will be a popular pick on roster projections as a seventh receiver.
ILB Curtis Bolton
This injury is almost certainly the most impactful, given that it is the only starter in the group. Bolton appeared on track to start in Oren Burks’ place at the WILL linebacker position, but seeing him on crutches and in a brace on his right knee is worrisome for both the short and long term. The best case here is probably an MCL sprain, a similar injury to the one that cost Aaron Jones 4-6 weeks in 2017 and that ended his 2018 early.
Burks still has no public timeline for his recovery, and he could go on IR after the cut-down or the team could simply leave him on the 53 and wait for him to get healthy. Would the Packers be willing to carry two injured inside linebackers on the initial roster, though, even if one or both were headed to IR? They only have four other healthy players at the position on the 90-man roster, which could force them to keep at least three.
If they hold on to Burks and Bolton initially, that likely means the team rolls with MIKEs Blake Martinez and Ty Summers, with James Crawford at the WILL — and counting on Mike Pettine to line up safeties like Raven Greene at WILL as well. Pettine did just that last year with the likes of Josh Jones (still an option), Jermaine Whitehead, and Ibraheim Campbell, who could be an option around midseason, as he looks like he will be on the PUP to start the regular season.
Gutekunst could also stash the two players on the 53, then claim a linebacker released by another team on Sunday and send one of the injured linebackers to IR. Another option would be to pursue a trade like the team did a year ago in acquiring Antonio Morrison from the Colts in exchange for Lenzy Pipkins. Perhaps cornerback Chandon Sullivan could be an intriguing piece of trade bait?
This position group appears to have the most uncertainty around it of any on the roster at the present time due to multiple injuries hitting key players. The ball is now in Brian Gutekunst’s court to find a way to get by at the WILL spot for at least a few weeks — and maybe much more.