Cornerback Al Harris, safety Atari Bigby and running back James Starks will begin practicing after spending the first six weeks on the physically unable to perform list. Whether they'll be activated for Sunday night's showdown against Minnesota will be determined during practice this week, but the return of Harris and Bigby, in particular, should be a shot in the arm for this injury-ravaged squad.
"We're just going to have to script a certain number of reps in and then try to see them in different situations," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "Obviously, practice is different than game speed, but you're going to have to try to get them in situations to where you can evaluate where they are and then we'll make a decision on how fast we can get them back up to speed."
Fortunately, Harris and Bigby aren't needed to contribute immediately, though a sudden impact certainly would be nice with Brett Favre, Randy Moss, Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin and Visanthe Shiancoe coming to town. But without Harris and Bigby, the Packers rank 10th in the league in scoring defense.
While the cornerbacks were a huge issue at the end of last season, Charles Woodson remains Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams has developed into one of the league's most underrated cornerbacks and undrafted rookie Sam Shields has been a revelation. So, while it would be nice to have Harris – especially with his size to match up occasionally against Moss – that group hasn't been much of an issue through six games.
"You need it," cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said of depth. "You need as many good corners with how many good receivers they have out there now. You need as many good corners as you can get."
Harris, even as a 34-year-old last season, was having a banner year until tearing his ACL against San Francisco. Outside of a touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree in that game, Harris wasn't victimized by any big plays in his nine games. He figures to come back as the third corner, either splitting time initially or replacing Shields in that role.
"People don't complete many balls on Al," Whitt said. "That just doesn't happen. He's just a very, very, very good football player. When you add that dimension, when you can shut down a half of the field with him, and the way that Tramon Williams is playing right now, it's going to make us better. It's going to make us better."
Bigby, who skipped all of the offseason work while seeking a new contract, never got on the field in training camp because of a nagging ankle injury that required surgery. His replacement, Morgan Burnett, was lost to a torn ACL suffered in Week 4. Charlie Peprah has been OK as Burnett's replacement and Anthony Smith is back in the mix after being reacquired on Sunday.
"The play speed is probably the thing that you miss the most, because things happen so fast out there," safeties coach Darren Perry said. "Atari's been in all of our meetings, (but) it's one thing to make those calls sitting in an air-conditioned room, where you're sitting back and there's no pressure to be where you need to be at the snap of the ball. That's always an issue and something you think about. But you always feel a little bit better when you get a guy with experience and a veteran that's played the game before, that understands the stresses that come along with playing on Sunday. That makes the transition that much easier to deal with."
The third player is Starks, but his injury history – a shoulder kept him out for his senior season at Buffalo and a hamstring kept him out of all but a couple rookie orientation practices and two weeks of OTAs since he was drafted – makes him a long shot to do anything but possibly help the special teams in the short run.
As for the trade deadline, there had been talk about the Packers going after Marion Barber, but Dallas – which is hosting the Super Bowl – had no reason to help a fellow championship contender.
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