Packers: Down on the corner, Packers try to piece together coverage crew for Sunday
GREEN BAY — You know that old football adage about how you can’t have enough cornerbacks? The Green Bay Packers know all too well how true that is. They never seem to have enough.
“That seems like that’s been the story the last two years,” cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said, shaking his head. “It is what it is.”
What it is entering Sunday’s game at Cleveland is potential trouble for a team trying to stay alive in hopes of two-time NFL MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ return to game action.
While the winless Browns haven’t put together a particularly daunting offense — Cleveland comes into the game ranked last in the NFL in scoring offense (14.7 points per game), 23rd in passing offense (202.8 yards per game) and a league-worst minus-19 in turnover differential — even rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer and his receivers could have a field day based on who the Packers line up against them.
“We’ll just have to wait and see what the availability is of all of our guys there,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “That’s just life in the NFL today with the numbers. They aren’t going to call timeout and stop the game. You’ve got to have guys ready to go no matter how many reps they’ve had at various positions.”
Who the Packers will have ready to go remains to be seen.
Top draft pick Kevin King was placed on season-ending injured reserve Wednesday with a shoulder injury Packers coach Mike McCarthy confirmed needed surgery. Quinten Rollins (Achilles’) and Herb Waters (shoulder) are already on IR. And veteran Davon House, who has already missed three games this year with a quadriceps injury, is listed as doubtful with a shoulder injury he suffered in last week’s win over Tampa Bay.
Even the Packers’ apparent reinforcements are hurt. Veteran Demetri Goodson, out since a catastrophic November 2016 knee injury, was activated from the physically unable to perform list to take King’s roster spot but has been ruled out against the Browns because of a hamstring injury he suffered recently during his comeback.
All this after 2015 first-round pick Damarious Randall and Rollins were plagued by injuries and inconsistency throughout last season and No. 1 cornerback Sam Shields was lost for the year to a concussion sustained in the 2016 regular-season opener.
“I’m not going to sit here and make any excuses. We’ve got a bunch of injuries. We’ve got guys that are new to the position with injuries. So, it’s a challenge,” Whitt said. “You want to play a high brand of football. You’re used to having high-quality players — and not saying that the players that we have aren’t because they can be that, but …”
Randall is the only would-be starter who’s set to line up against the Browns, and behind him are second-year man Josh Hawkins and rookies Lenzy Pipkins and Donatello Brown, both of whom have been called up from the practice squad during the season.
The Packers also have tried using safeties in coverage, working veteran safety Morgan Burnett and young safety Jermaine Whitehead in the slot in sub packages last week against the Buccaneers. Rookie safety Josh Jones also is an option.
Whitt wouldn’t say who’d start in House’s place Sunday, but whoever it is will be inexperienced.
“You have young guys that haven’t played — ever. Now we’re in a playoff mode and you’re expecting them to go out there and play winning football,” Whitt said.
King’s surgery set
Whitt saw firsthand how hard it was for King to play through the shoulder injury, which dated back to his college career at Washington, but he also saw enough of the rookie second-round pick to believe the Packers got a good one who should be lining up on the corner for a long time.
“You haven’t really seen the real Kevin King yet,” Whitt said. “I know what he can be, but with him not being able to (use) that arm … he has a chance to be a really, really good player. Once he’ll be able to throw (his shoulder) and control people at the line of scrimmage (with) his length and his ability to be able to bend and move and do those types of things, once he gets that taken care of, you’re going to see a player that you’ll be really excited about. But you haven’t seen it yet.”
King plans on showing everyone that player next season. He said Friday that Dr. James Andrews will do surgery next Tuesday to repair his labrum, which he originally tore as a freshman at Washington and had surgery on that year. He said his shoulder popped out of place roughly 10 times during his rookie season in the nine games he played.
“They ain’t never got to worry about me giving up or anything like that. When they go into battle with me, they know I’m going to ride with them ’til they’re going to have to carry me off on a stretcher,” King said. “I’m not sure what the plan is in terms of rehab. Because this is my second (surgery), I don’t know if they’re going to do things a little differently. I’m not sure. We’ll get with the doctors and the training staff and try to figure out my rehab process and everything.”
Whitt said King showed remarkable grit playing through the injury, which knocked him out of the lineup several times – only for him to come back in later in those games. King had sat out two of the last three games, and he was in-and-out of the lineup at Pittsburgh Nov. 26, the only game he had played in over that span.
“He’s a tough kid because he played through it. He never complained. He fought, he fought, he fought,” Whitt said. “First play of the Dallas game (on Oct. 8), he hits, boom, he comes out. He goes right back in there. He’s a tough kid. No one questioned his toughness.”
Outside linebacker Nick Perry, who played through a foot injury last week against Tampa Bay but now has a shoulder injury as well, was listed as questionable on the injury report after not practicing Wednesday or Thursday because of “the combination of” his injuries, McCarthy said. Said Perry: “Right now, I’m just trying to nurse all my injuries and make sure that I’m ready to go on Sunday.” … Defensive tackle Quinton Dial (chest/knee) is also questionable, as is backup guard Lucas Patrick (hand). … Packers tight end Lance Kendricks has been charged with possession of THC in connection with a traffic stop in September. Kendricks, a former University of Wisconsin athlete who was returning to Green Bay after the Badgers’ season opener against Utah State, had marijuana in his vehicle but was not cited or arrested at the time, but dash-cam video of the arrest later became public via TMZ Sports. The charge was filed in Outagamie County on Tuesday.