Injuries create opportunities

So far the Packers' 2005 season has been disappointing, although the Saints game offered some hope. The team has started 1-4 and has suffered some devastating injuries. It all started in Week 1 and has continued through Green Bay's latest game.

The Packers have lost wide receiver Javon Walker for the season, and Bubba Franks' knee injury has cost him at least three games. Wide receiver Terrence Murphy is out for the season with a neck injury; running back Ahman Green missed the Saints game with a knee/quad injury; and center Mike Flanagan is out indefinitely after undergoing hernia surgery last week. Linebacker Na'il Diggs is out likely till the end of November with a knee injury, and the Packers lost running back Najeh Davenport for the season last Sunday with a broken ankle.

The injury issue has weakened the Packers' depth chart. But it has also created opportunities for other players to make their mark as established players in the NFL. At wide receiver, the injuries to Walker and Murphy have opened up opportunities for the other young wide receivers to make an impact. Robert Ferguson has always wanted this type of chance. He has been a bit of a disappointment up to now, although he had a big game against the Saints. Several times this year already Ferguson has either dropped or not fought hard enough to make catches that Walker had made in the past. At the very least, Ferguson had the chance to break up a couple of interceptions.

Brett Favre will always give his wide receivers a chance to make plays. But if Ferguson is inconsistent, then those chances will evaporate. Wide receiver Antonio Chatman, on the other hand, has shown steady improvement again this year. He caught TD passes in two consecutive games. Jamal Jones, who was recently elevated from the practice squad, will get his chance in the coming weeks.

The Packers will also look at the free agent market at wide receiver in the coming weeks as the team right now has only four wide receivers. UFA Andre' Davis might be a possibility.

Tight end David Martin finally showed the type of ability the coaching staff has been expecting in the Panther game. He caught a TD pass and made several other catches. Martin also caught a TD in the Saints game as Bubba Franks only lined up for one play. He will never be a dominant blocker, but when Franks comes back from his injury, the team can feel pretty comfortable in its two TE sets. Martin also has enough speed to help out the depleted WR corp.

Tight end Donald Lee has also made the most of his opportunity as he has caught TD passes in consecutive games just like Martin. Lee, like Martin, has the ability to stretch the defense as evidenced by his TD catch against the Saints.

Center Scott Wells has looked pretty good the last couple of weeks in place of the injured Flanagan, who was coming off knee surgery from 2004 as well as his latest injury. Flanagan was being bull-rushed too easily and also had issues getting out to the next level on running plays. Wells has a very strong base and he did a nice job of taking on bull rushes against the Panthers and Saints. Wells is also quick enough to get out and get to the linebacker level on running plays as well as chipping defensive tackles to help out the guards on passing plays. Wells might be just what this offensive line needs to start jelling. Flanagan, meanwhile, hopes to be back for the Vikings game.

Offensive tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher gutted it out against the Saints and played through their injuries. Clifton played on the ankle he sprained against the Panthers, while Tauscher played on a sore arch. Kevin Barry would be the obvious choice at RT if Tauscher ever went down, while rookie Junius Coston is getting reps at left tackle in the event Clifton is sidelined.

If the line play can improve, the running game might finally get untracked, as it showed at times against the Saints. Davenport looked pretty good scoring two TDs against the Saints before breaking his ankle. Davenport is in the last year of his contract with the Packers and the injury took away a golden opportunity for him to prove to the Packers he could be counted on as the halfback of the future.

The Packers now will count on Tony Fisher and newly acquired Rashard Lee to help spell Green when he returns to the lineup. Fisher has always been effective as a third down back. Lee has nice size and speed and will probably get a chance to be the first and second down back if Green is slow to return from his injury.

On defense, the Packers are giving rookie linebacker Roy Manning the first shot in replacing the injured Diggs. Manning has great size and speed and will have to play well to hold off Paris Lenon as a starter. This is an excellent opportunity for Manning, as well as the other players filling in, to show their worth. Manning looked pretty solid against the Saints, as did his defensive teammates. The Packers were looking for a spark to ignite their season. The fuse may have been lit this past Sunday. The Packers are going to need all their players to step up when given the opportunity if they expect the fireworks to continue.

Bob Fox is a freelance writer from the Tampa, Fla., area.


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