Badgered by key injuries all season, the Green Bay Packers are nearing full strength as the playoff run opens up this week.
Not only are Randall Cobb, Za’Darius Smith, Jaire Alexander, Whitney Mercilus, Billy Turner and Ty Summers all on the field and practicing, but Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Chandon Sullivan returned to practice on Tuesday, and Lucas Patrick came off the COVID-19 reserve list on Monday.
The only player not practicing on Tuesday was left tackle David Bakhtiari, but coach Matt LaFleur wasn’t concerned and said he’s going through “load management.”
LaFleur also said he’s “hopeful” for Alexander and Smith to play Saturday night against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Divisional Round. The two would be making triumphant returns after missing most of the 2021 season with significant injuries. Alexander has been out since Week 4 after injuring his shoulder, while Smith only played in Week 1 before shutting it down for back surgery.
Cobb, Smith, Mercilus and Summers have all been designated to return from injured reserve and could be activated to the 53-man roster at any point this week.
Cobb has missed a month and a half after needing surgery to fix a core muscle injury. Mercilus is making a miraculous recovery from a torn biceps injury in October. Both will provide veteran experience at two key spots. Summers, a key special teamer, missed the final three games of the regular season with a knee injury.
Turner, the starting right tackle, appears on track to return after suffering a knee injury on Dec. 12 and missing the rest of the regular season. If available, Turner would give the Packers four of their five preferred starters along the offensive line. Bakhtiari and rookie center Josh Myers returned in Week 18 and will be expected to play on Saturday.
Valdes-Scantling (back) and Sullivan (knee) returned to practice after suffering injuries during the Packers’ Week 18 loss to the Detroit Lions.
Linebacker De’Vondre Campbell (elbow) and running back Aaron Jones (knee) both sat out Week 18, but both have been practicing over the last two weeks, including on Tuesday.
Also of note, LaFleur’s team does not have a single player on the COVID-19 reserve list as of Tuesday afternoon. Patrick, a starter at right guard, was the only player left, and he was cleared Monday.
The Packers won’t have Elgton Jenkins, Robert Tonyan, Kylin Hill, Randy Ramsey or Chauncey Rivers for the playoffs. All five suffered season-ending injuries. But the rest of the roster is trending in the right direction, especially after getting a week off.
LaFleur said the Packers will take it day by day with many of the returning players, including Bakhtiari.
However, it’s certainly possible that when the Packers kick off on Saturday night, they’ll have their All-Pro left tackle, starting right tackle, primary slot receiver, speedy vertical threat, All-Pro edge rusher, All-Pro cornerback, starting slot corner and several others all available to play.
At full strength, the Packers – who weathered numerous injuries to finish 13-4 and secure the No. 1 seed in the NFC – have to be considered the Super Bowl favorite in the conference.