Packers notebook

Special teams zero in on the Bears' Hester; Favre addresses his future; injury update

There's no telling how long, if at all, the Packers will see some of Chicago's top-line players in the regular-season finale Sunday night at Soldier Field. The Bears have little to play for since they've secured home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

Yet, one player who likely will be deployed from start to finish is Devin Hester. The rookie return specialist stands to be the wild card that could dash the Packers' possible quest of the final postseason berth in the NFC bracket. Green Bay is mired in a dogfight of five 7-8 teams, and it will know by kickoff Sunday night whether it must win to get in.

"He's a unique returner in our game right now. He's having an incredible season," Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said of Hester. "When you have a returner that's scored as many touchdowns as he has, that can change a game, and he has."

Hester set a single-season league record with six touchdown returns: three punt returns, two kickoff returns and a return out of the end zone on a missed field-goal attempt. He has earned a trip to the Pro Bowl.

The second-round draft pick started his electrifying exploits in the season opener at Green Bay on Sept. 10, returning a fourth-quarter punt 84 yards for a touchdown to complete the Bears' 26-0 victory.

McCarthy alluded to how the Packers might try to limit Hester's impact in the second go-around.

"Well, don't kick the ball down the middle of the field is probably a good starting point," McCarthy said.

Problem is, first-year punter Jon Ryan has been all about power, ranking sixth with a gross average of 44.8 yards, but he lacks the directional touch that is desired to counteract Hester. Ryan has had a tendency to outkick the coverage, which has contributed to the Packers' lagging 23rd in the league with an average of 9.5 yards allowed on punt returns.

Kicker Dave Rayner has an explosive leg as well, which should be more effective in neutralizing Hester on kickoffs provided the weather is conducive for driving kicks into the end zone. Rayner has 11 touchbacks, but only one in the past six games since mid-November, as the Packers have been confronted with blustery conditions.

Consequently, special teams coordinator Mike Stock didn't sugarcoat the importance of his coverage units trying to contain Hester.

"We have to tackle him. The way you stop him is to tackle him," Stock said Thursday.

The longtime NFL assistant indicated that the approach will be to hem in Hester from the front and both sides. Stock, though, acknowledged such a plan isn't foolproof in apprehending a runaway playmaker.

"You shut off the side routes, and you shut off the front door," Stock said. "(But) if you can do that, he might try to back out on you, and he probably has a good chance to do that, too. This guy's a talented, gifted runner -- not just a returner but a runner."

Favre mum on his future
Quarterback Brett Favre didn't talk to reporters after their last game, and he wasn't scheduled to talk with the media this week, but Friday he did speak to Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal about his future with the Packers.

When asked, "Why not come back?" Favre replied, "Hey, we've got a long ways to go, and I don't have that much time. We're struggling to score touchdowns. We're struggling to be productive. Thank goodness our defense has pulled us through the last few games. But I expect to be more productive, regardless, and I'm not, for whatever reason. I could point to a lot of those, but the bottom line is, I'm not as productive."

Favre says he won't be rushed into making a decision about his future, and his family for the most part wants him to return.

Favre hasn't talked to the media following the season finale for the last four years, so it's not likely he will announce his decision on next season Sunday night.

Injury update
-- DT Ryan Pickett was added to the injury report Thursday with a sprained foot sustained during practice Wednesday. Pickett didn't practice Thursday but is considered probable for the game Sunday night at Chicago. Pickett, who has started every game on the right side this season, said the medical staff would further examine the foot Friday.

-- WR Donald Driver was out of practice Thursday for the second consecutive day because of a dislocated shoulder he aggravated in the last game, Dec. 21 against Minnesota. Driver remains probable for Sunday, and the coaches are anticipating the NFC's top receiver being ready to play.

-- CB Charles Woodson, who aggravated a lingering shoulder injury in the last game, returned to practice Thursday after missing a day. Woodson is probable for Sunday night's game.

-- RB Ahman Green was back in practice after getting his customary Wednesday off to rest his chronically sore knees. Green, who needs 12 rushing yards for a record-setting sixth 1,000-yard season as a Packer, is probable for Sunday.

-- TE David Martin practiced for the second consecutive day and could be activated for only the second time in the past six games. Martin remains questionable with injured ribs.


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