On Sunday, Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy downplayed Vernand Morency's knee contusion as a ‘day-to-day' ailment.
Today, it's a new story that is still evolving.
"It may be a couple more weeks for him," McCarthy said.
If that's the case, the third-year pro will probably be held out of the team's preseason opener at Pittsburgh. Morency limped to his locker on his sore left knee, but declined to speak to reporters after practice.
McCarthy declined to specify what type of knee injury Morency suffered. The coach did say that Morency isn't sure when the injury occurred but it may have happened in pass protection with the back's legs getting ‘crossed up.'
Morency's early setback further justifies his biggest knock: durability. Morency is one of the best conditioned athletes but is injury prone. At this point, he seems destined to be a change-of-pace back in the NFL. His running style isn't contact-friendly or conducive to 20-plus carries a game.
When given increased responsibility last season, he excelled. Morency tore Arizona's defense to shreds for 101 yards on 11 carries.
But he didn't build momentum.
During the Cardinals game, Morency suffered a lower back injury and missed the next two games at Buffalo and Minnesota. Whereas Ahman Green earned the tough yards last season against heavy fronts, Morency was able to enter the game fresh and play in streaks. When he produced late in the season against San Francisco (69 yards on seven carries) and Detroit (54 yards on seven carries with two touchdowns), it was sheer teasing.
Green, who bolted to Houston for $23 million over four years, did the dirty work. Morency's 4.6 average yards per carry last season looks great on paper, but it is dangerously deceiving if he is unable to remain on the field.
General manager Ted Thompson and McCarthy have adamantly contested that they are confident in taking a running back-by-committee approach if need be. But with such an uncertain passing attack, the Packers need a workhorse in the backfield or it could be 1998 and 2005 all over again. Brett Favre had to throw 575 and 607 passes those two seasons, leading to high interception totals (23 and 29).
Unless McCarthy and the coaching staff are confident that Brandon Jackson, P.J. Pope, and Noah Herron aren't second comings of the Darick Holmes-Raymont Harris-Travis Jervey and Najeh Davenport-Tony Fisher-Samkon Gado trios, they may want to seriously explore their options.
Jackson, Pope, and Herron have all shown flashes. Jackson's hands are as good as advertised, but he hasn't broken many runs beyond 10 yards in the first four practices. Pope and Herron both have strong upper bodies that could take a pounding, but only game experience can truly answer that. There's also Corey White, an undrafted FB-TB combo threat from Alabama-Birmingham. At 6-1, 239 pounds the explosive White is a darkhorse. In college, he finished fourth on the school's all-time rushing list (1,925 yards) and second in touchdowns (25).
Still, McCarthy sees promise in the team's running backs.
"I think P.J. has had a nice camp," he said. "I think White is a young man that's obviously very physical, and these are the type of days that he really shows up, short-yardage and goal-line. I've been impressed with what he's done the last two practices. And I think Brandon just continues to get better as he gets more comfortable with the footwork and the schemes that we're doing. We're getting plenty of work. Noah has been very solid. I think he looks great compared to where he was at last year too. So I think Noah Herron is a guy we don't talk a whole lot about that's having a very good camp."
But do the Packers have a mixed bag of part-time backs on the roster? Jackson and Herron would make ideal third down backs, while White and Pope have succeeded in goal-line drills but can anybody grind out those game-clinching, fourth quarter first downs? Only game action can answer that. As of now, the outlook is dim.
It's not too late to look around.
And in the far west, San Diego has an ace up their sleeve in Michael Turner. Turner Burner will be an unrestricted free agent next offseason, so maybe the Chargers would be willing to get something for him now while they still can. A package of picks and a player or two would be sufficient. Turner is on the verge of stardom. He just needs a chance.
In Green Bay, everybody is getting a chance at running back.
Here are some other notes from today's practice:
Offensive Play of the Day
For the third day in a row, Aaron Rodgers has a piece of this honor. With Brett Favre gone to Mississippi following the death of his wife's stepfather, Rodgers continues to gain valuable snaps with the first team. During 11-on-11 red zone work, Rodgers completed a ‘flag' pass to Robert Ferguson in the left corner of the end zone.
But even more impressive than Rodgers' perfectly placed ball was Ferguson's concentration. The veteran wideout had corner Will Blackmon blocking his vision, yet was still able to elevate for the ball and get his feet down for the score.
"I wish he would have thrown the ball a little bit sooner but I don't think [Rodgers] anticipated me breaking off my route as fast as I did," Ferguson recalled. "But he made a great throw and I was able to make the grab and get my feet down."
Defensive Play of the Day
Charles Woodson's roster spot may be locked up tighter than Area 51, but even after a career-best season, the 10-year veteran is playing with something to prove. After intercepting two of Brett Favre's four picks Sunday night, Woodson's ball-hawking continued today.
On an eight yard slant pass intended for receiver Chris Francies, Woodson anticipated the route and make a diving interception.
It's a signature pick for Woodson, who has 25 career interceptions, including eight last year.
"It was just route recognition," Woodson recalled. "It was knowing what a team's trying to do. We've been going at it a couple days so you pick up on little things and go after the ball. Whenever I see a chance to get the ball, I go get it."
Stock is Up
McCarthy called the team's depth at safety a ‘logjam' and that it's very hard to give out equal reps with the first team defense. But if Aaron Rouse makes more plays like he did today, McCarthy will have no choice but to get the rookie on the field with Woodson, Al Harris, and Nick Collins.
Rouse made a very athletic interception in a late 7-on-7 session, and it didn't end there. Soon after, the intimidating 6-foot-4 Virginia Tech product closed in for run support and absolutely stood up running back P.J. Pope at the line of scrimmage. Rouse didn't even fall down with Pope. He just stood ... and stared in a Madden-esque ‘hit stick' tackle.
Stock is Down
DeShawn Wynn may have only been a seventh round selection, but given the circumstances at running back, he has every opportunity to win the starting job.
Of course he can only help his cause if he's on the field.
Wynn returned to practice today, but was hindered by a lingering stomach virus. It's never smart to overdo it in 90-degree July heat, but Wynn is missing out on valuable carries.
"Anybody that's not practicing is not helping themselves," McCarthy said. "I think we all know that. He has an illness that he's trying to overcome and he needs to get back as fast as he can."
He Said It
"Definitely. There's not much out there that I haven't been through. I had two injuries that were supposed to be season-ending, but I've been able to fight through some adversity. Now it's just about playing the game. Now, I really appreciate actually being able to run and move around. It can't get any worse. Knock on wood."
- Wide Receiver Robert Ferguson on whether experience is a key factor for him this training camp.
Tyler Dunne is a student at Syracuse University. He is in Green Bay covering the Packers during training camp for PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at email@example.com.