Notebook: Wells Throws OL in Flux

If Scott Wells can't play, the Packers will be using another new offensive line, with undrafted rookie Evan Dietrich-Smith getting the nod at center. He would be one of a few rookies who could be thrust into big roles.

Another game, another different offensive line for the Green Bay Packers?

That could be the case on Thursday at Detroit, with center Scott Wells yet to practice this week because of a knee injury that plagued him during Sunday's victory over San Francisco.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy wasn't tipping his hand, but undrafted rookie Evan Dietrich-Smith took all of the snaps at practice on Tuesday. If Wells can't go, Dietrich-Smith would give the Packers their seventh different starting combination this season and mark the fifth consecutive game in which the Packers didn't use the same starting five for consecutive weeks.

"We're on a short week, so I'm not exactly sure of how it's going to pan out in a couple of positions," McCarthy said. "You have people that are hurt, they'll be in treatment all day today, like they've been most of the morning, and we'll be here throughout tonight. We'll have a walk-through tomorrow, and then we'll get on the plane and head over to Detroit."

With Jason Spitz on injured reserve after back surgery and Wells out for two days last week with a concussion, quarterback Aaron Rodgers has taken plenty of practice reps with Dietrich-Smith. But would he be ready to take on 300-and-whatever pounds of Grady Jackson in a nationally televised game?

"I think he is. I think he definitely is," Rodgers said. "He's done a good job for us, really since training camp. He's kind of opened guys' eyes about what kind of player he was. I didn't even realize until probably about a month ago he played left tackle in college. But he's a talented guy. It's impressive to watch him, the way he's playing. He's got a good attitude to him."

Stroking his own modest beard, Rodgers continued talking about the big-bearded rookie, who replaced left guard Daryn Colledge for a series against Dallas two weeks ago.

"He's got a little dirtbag to him, which you need as an offensive lineman — not to mention he's got a really scruffy beard, which helps him out as far as toughness factor. But we're very confident with him and he's a smart guy."

Meanwhile, left tackle Chad Clifton was limited at practice with a sore knee but McCarthy thinks Clifton will be "ready to go."

Study time

Recently, McCarthy had team research guru Mike Eayrs put together a study about young players being elevated into key roles. The timing is right on the money, with three rookies — Dietrich-Smith, Brad Jones at linebacker and Brandon Underwood at cornerback — about to be thrust into the spotlight.

"Number one, the importance of their role and the importance of being available," McCarthy explained. "From the day we arrived here, we've talked about availability and accountability. Once again, being a young football team, it's one thing to talk about it but you have to put the structure in place and have people ready. Mike just talked about it two weeks ago and you look at what happened this past week's game with Aaron Kampman and Al Harris. You have to be ready for those types of situations."

McCarthy wouldn't say whether Jones would start for Kampman or how Underwood, Jarrett Bush or newcomer Josh Bell would fit in the pecking order at cornerback. How those young players adapt will be key as the Packers make a push to the playoffs. McCarthy is confident that those young players will do the job. Why?

"Based on what I see every day," he said. "Our football team is improving. I think it's evident in the way that we have played the last couple of weeks and our focus has never changed. It's about winning games, doing whatever it takes to win games, and improving. I have all the confidence in the world in our football team, specifically because these guys have been here since March. A lot of these players you just mentioned, they have been here and they're ready to go and they need to take advantage of their opportunity."

Jones' homecoming

Jones, the rookie linebacker from Colorado, grew up in East Lansing, Mich., and expects to have about 20 family members at Ford Field on Thursday. He's not a sure bet to start, with veteran Brady Poppinga also a possibility.

"I'm excited. Honestly, I'm happy to have any opportunity to compete," Jones said. "I don't know exactly how this week's going to shake out, but anytime they let me play, man, as long as I can get on that field and show what I can do, I just get excited."

What also has him excited is the chance to eat some of mom's home cooking on Thanksgiving.

"My mom's stuffing. Oh, man, it's so good, you have no idea. Hopefully she'll bring me some in the hotel before the game," he said.

Packers injury report

Did not participate — T Allen Barbre (ankle); RB Ahman Green (groin); C Scott Wells (knee). Limited participation — T Chad Clifton (knee); CB Charles Woodson (hip). Full participation — LB Brandon Chillar (hand); RB Ryan Grant (neck); DE Cullen Jenkins (ankle); DE Johnny Jolly (back); FB John Kuhn (hand); G Josh Sitton (back).

Lions injury report

Did not participate — WR Calvin Johnson (hand/knee); S Kalvin Pearson (hamstring); S Ko Simpson (knee); LB Ernie Sims (hamstring). QB Matthew Stafford (knee/left shoulder); DE Dewayne White (toe). Limited participation — DT Joe Cohen (ankle); S Louis Delmas (ankle); LB Jordan Dizon (neck); LB Zack Follett (neck); NT Grady Jackson (knee); T Daniel Loper (back); RB Kevin Smith (hip).

"Sore, just like anybody," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said of Johnson, who scored two touchdowns in both games against Green Bay last year but sat out the October game with a knee injury. "If any NFL team at this point of the season had to do a practice schedule for a Monday after a Sunday game, just everybody that played in the game would have a hard time completing a practice. Calvin's no different. He's dealt with some injuries, but he's gotten better and better and I think you saw a breakout game from him. He set his career high in yards in that game, but he's sore after that game, he probably won't do much this whole week, but we'll see when it gets to Thursday, how full speed he's going to be or how much up to speed he'll be or whether he'll be able to go."

Four-point stance

— Ryan Grant is one of three candidates for the FedEx Ground player of the week. Grant rushed 21 times for 129 yards and one touchdown on Sunday against San Francisco. The other candidates are the Titans' Chris Johnson (29-151 vs. Houston) and the Dolphins' Ricky Williams (22-119 vs. Carolina). To vote, click here.

— Sports Illustrated asked 296 players "Which NFL team would you least like to play for?" Oakland won in landslide with 20 percent of the vote, followed by Buffalo (14 percent), Green Bay (13 percent), Detroit (12 percent) and Cleveland (7 percent). That disdain for Green Bay comes largely from young players. Among players with five or fewer years in the league, the Packers were the least-desirable team, with 16 percent of their vote.

Tramon Williams will start at cornerback in place of Al Harris. Even with the promotion, he could return punts against the Lions. McCarthy said Williams, Jordy Nelson and Woodson are in the mix.

— Schwartz, on getting the importance of this game across to his players — about half of whom are in their first year with the Lions: "We definitely talked about it. Half of our roster, if you mentioned Joe Montana, they might have a hard time putting that in context. Joe Montana was a guy they saw just on maybe some highlight films or something like that, a couple of Super Bowl retrospectives. You have to break things up to guys and explain the importance and where they are. We turned over half of the roster from last year. A lot of these guys have never played in a Thanksgiving Day game. So, it's important for us to explain the significance of this game."


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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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