Notebook: Havner Might Play on 'D'

Spencer Havner returns to Lambeau Field on Sunday and could be in the mix at middle linebacker for the Lions. Plus, the run defense is struggling statistically but there's a good reason, the final injury report and more from Friday.

Spencer Havner made a name for himself with the Packers as a touchdown-scoring tight end. He'll return on Sunday as possibly a contributor at middle linebacker for the Detroit Lions.

Starter DeAndre Levy, a native of Milwaukee and a former standout at Wisconsin, is listed as doubtful with a groin injury and is not expected to play. Isaiah Ekejiuba is listed as the top backup to Levy, but Landon Johnson got both starts when Levy missed the first two games.

Havner is listed as the third middle linebacker but played the last series last week against Minnesota when Levy was hurt. No doubt he shared what he could about the Packers' offense.

"He's ready to play inside; he's ready to play outside," Lions coach Jim Schwartz told reporters in Detroit on Friday. "He's got the speed on all special teams. He's been that way since the first week. He's not a veteran player, but he's also been around the block a little bit and sort of understands. You always pick players' brains. I think a little bit can be made too much of that. They know he's here, they know he was there at training camp and he was there with them last year. So, any information that you get you have to take with a grain of salt because they know that we'll know those calls and things like that. It's really no different than 31 other teams. Everybody's going to know a little bit of information, but being able to use it on Sunday, sometimes it can get you in trouble."

Nickel for your thoughts

Green Bay's run defense ranked No. 1 in the NFL last year and topped the charts in franchise history. This year, Green Bay ranks 18th with 116.7 rushing yards allowed per game (compared to 83.3 last year) and 30th with 5.0 yards allowed per carry (compared to 3.6 last year).

However, numbers are deceiving. Last year, they played in their base 3-4 defense about 40 percent of the time. This year, it's only about 12 percent of the time, with Green Bay playing all of Week 1 and all but a few snaps of Week 3 in nickel. That means one less defensive lineman and one more defensive back on the field. The scrambling of Eagles quarterback Michael Vick and Bears quarterback Jay Cutler have skewed the numbers further. Take out their combined 153 rushing yards, and the Packers are allowing 3.8 yards per rush. That would rank 11th.

"I think we're doing OK. I think we're playing the run solid," coach Mike McCarthy said. "We definitely want to improve on certain things. I think the rotation of your linemen, you have Cullen (Jenkins) with the hand, and I think B.J. (Raji) and Ryan Pickett are both playing more snaps than they have in the past. In some of the other combination sub groups, just to make sure you're getting the run fits, because you don't have the opportunity in training camp, particularly practicing against our offense and the way we're structured in training camp to maybe have as much sub run. That's something we'll look at in the future, too. I think we're off to a solid start."

Starks counting down the days

You don't have to tell James Starks that he can come off the physically unable to perform list after the Week 6 game in 16 days.

Starks, the sixth-round pick, hasn't gotten onto the field since organized team activities in June. He missed all of training camp with a hamstring injury but said he's ready to roll when eligible to come off PUP. With Ryan Grant out and the running game struggling, it's been tough for Starks to watch.

"Yeah, I always want to get in there and do what I can do," he said. "It's been awhile since I've been out and actually played a game. I just can't wait to touch the football and hear the crowd scream at me scoring a touchdown. I'm excited."

Packers injury report

Out: LB Brandon Chillar (shoulder). Doubtful: CB Sam Shields (calf). Questionable: DE Mike Neal (side/rib), S Charlie Peprah (quad), LB Brady Poppinga (hamstring). Probable: T Chad Clifton (knee), S Nick Collins (knee), DE Cullen Jenkins (hand), LB Brad Jones (knee), S Derrick Martin (ankle), CB Charles Woodson (toe).

The Packers finally are rounding back to health but two main cogs of their nickel defense likely will not play. Chillar has been ruled out and McCarthy gave Shields practically no chance of playing.

A.J. Hawk, who has played a bigger role in nickel the last two games, or Desmond Bishop will pick up the slack for Chillar. Jarrett Bush figures to replace Shields rather than Brandon Underwood, who hasn't played on defense since injuring his shoulder in the third preseason game against Indianapolis.

"He's working his way back," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said of Underwood. "I don't know that he's still all the way back yet. He's worked his way back into the mix. I really like the way Jarrett Bush has practiced."

Lions injury report

Out: RB Aaron Brown (finger), QB Matthew Stafford (shoulder). Doubtful: WR Nate Burleson (ankle), LB DeAndre Levy (groin). Questionable: RB Jahvid Best (toe), DT Sammie Hill (ankle). Probable: DE Cliff Avril (knee/finger), S C.C. Brown (forearm), S Louis Delmas (groin, biceps, calf), LB Zack Follett (concussion), CB Chris Houston (ankle), LB Landon Johnson (neck), G Stephen Peterman (foot), CB Amari Spievey (illness), DE Kyle Vanden Bosch (back).

As expected, Shaun Hill will start at quarterback for Stafford and Bryant Johnson will replace Burleson. As for Best, the NFC's rookie of the month who practiced for the first time this week on Friday, Schwartz said: "I think he's on the right track. He may be a game time decision, he may not, but I think he's on the right track. The rest definitely helped him the first couple days of the week."

Four-point stance

— Expect to see plenty of pink at Lambeau Field, with this being National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This year's campaign is called "A Crucial Catch: Annual Screening Saves Lives."

— The NFL has made no decision regarding Collins' postgame incident at Soldier Field, when he threw his mouthguard at a fan who allegedly spit on him and used a racial slur.

— The Packers haven't allowed a sack in the last two games and have yielded just 13 in the last 10. That's the fifth-lowest figure during that span.

— Not long ago, the Packers had a streak of 34 consecutive games without a touchdown on their opening drive of the second half. That streak ended in the next-to-last game of the regular season last year at Seattle. This year, the Packers scored touchdowns to open the second half against Philadelphia and Buffalo, and had a strong drive at Chicago that ended in a blocked field goal.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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