Wounded Packers get PUP reinforcements

The Packers have suffered several serious injuries of late, but players they had deemed physically unable to perform at the start of the season can return to practice. Which ones are in contention to play Sunday against the Vikings?

The brittle Packers have reinforcements on the way, but it's too soon to know whether any or all of them can contribute immediately and help stop the bleeding.

On the same day the Packers' list of injured-reserve casualties grew to five since opening day with the addition of starting tight end Jermichael Finley, coach Mike McCarthy had some good news to share for a change Monday.

The team will have Pro Bowl cornerback Al Harris, safety Atari Bigby and rookie running back James Starks in practice this week after they spent the mandatory first six weeks of the season on the physically unable to perform list.

"(We) just want to see them out there in the group drills, in the team drills and just see where they are because they can't do any more than they've done from a rehab standpoint," McCarthy said. "So, it's time to cut those guys loose. I know they're excited about it, and we're excited to get them on the practice field.

"It's time for them to get into football activities and find out exactly where they are."

The team will have the next three weeks to decide whether to put one, two or all three of the PUP players on the 53-man roster. The other options at Green Bay's disposal by the end of the three-week window is to keep them on PUP for the rest of the season or release any of them.

McCarthy said he won't know until Wednesday whether someone from that trio could be ready to play right away, starting Sunday night when the Packers host the rival Vikings. There have been indications of late that Harris, a 13-year veteran who is nearly 11 months removed from major knee surgery, is the furthest ahead in terms of being in game-ready shape.

The Packers' acquisition of veteran safety Anthony Smith in a trade with the Jaguars to take Finley's spot on the roster suggests Bigby, a former starter, will need some more recovery time after he underwent additional surgery on an ankle in early August.

Decimated by a slew of injuries in recent weeks, the Packers couldn't wait on trying to get Finley back by the end of the season. He had surgery Oct. 12 for a torn meniscus in his right knee, and his prognosis for recovery was at least eight to 10 weeks.

"This is completely in the best interests of Jermichael Finley's future, so (IR) was not avoidable," McCarthy said.

The Packers previously lost three other starters — running back Ryan Grant, rookie safety Morgan Burnett and linebacker Nick Barnett — as well as defensive end Justin Harrell to season-ending injuries.

Already without NFL sacks leader Clay Matthews for Sunday's 23-20 overtime loss to the Dolphins, Green Bay saw its thin linebacker corps take another hit when fill-in starter Brady Poppinga aggravated a knee injury early in the game. Poppinga will have arthroscopic surgery Tuesday morning and is out indefinitely.

The Packers, who have lost two straight to fall to 3-3, are hopeful of getting Matthews (hamstring) and starting defensive end Ryan Pickett (ankle) back for Sunday's game against the Vikings.

NOTES

  • The Packers filled the roster spot vacated by tight end Jermichael Finley, whom they placed on injured reserve Monday after he underwent knee surgery last week, by re-acquiring safety Anthony Smith.

    The Jaguars traded Smith, a fifth-year veteran, to the Packers for a conditional seventh-round draft pick in 2011.

    The 6-foot, 200-pound Smith, a former third-round draft pick by the Steelers, was a surprise cut by the Packers before last season. Smith, who had signed with Green Bay early in that offseason, played well in the preseason.

    Smith subsequently signed with the Rams and later hooked on with the Jaguars last season. He made three starts with the Jaguars this season.

    "Anthony has a history with us, has played in this defense, and we think he is a good fit," coach Mike McCarthy said. "It will be great to have him back."

    Given Smith's familiarity with defensive coordinator Dom Capers' scheme, it's conceivable Smith could step in as a starter alongside Nick Collins for Sunday night's game against the Vikings. Charlie Peprah has been a stopgap the last two games since the season-ending loss of rookie Morgan Burnett.

  • McCarthy was bristling Monday, a day after the Packers were called for a costly penalty on a punt in the fourth quarter that ultimately helped the Dolphins in their 23-20 overtime victory at Lambeau Field.

    The officials waited a few minutes before throwing a flag on Robert Francois, a backup linebacker making his NFL debut. They huddled up during a TV timeout after the Dolphins punted and decided that Francois was in an illegal formation as he lined up across from long snapper John Denney.

    Per a new league rule this year, a defensive player either has to line up outside the snapper's shoulders if on the line of scrimmage or a yard off the line if head up with the snapper. Referee Ed Hochuli's crew ruled that Francois was closer than a yard head up with Denney, but the video of the play indicated otherwise.

    "We had used that formation earlier in the game. It's a legal formation," McCarthy said. "Why it took so long for the flag and so forth, I do not understand that part. ... Just the process of it is what's disturbing. But Robert Francois was lined up a yard from the center. That's what the film shows."

    The penalty on fourth-and-2 gave the Dolphins a first down after the Packers had their offense on the field during the TV break. Miami proceeded to score a touchdown for a 20-13 lead that Green Bay erased in the final seconds of regulation to force overtime.

    "I was aware of the situation, and I did what I was supposed to do," said a perplexed Francois, adding of the penalty, "It was really huge. It changed everything."

  • WR Donald Driver aggravated a quadriceps strain in Sunday's overtime loss to the Dolphins and is expected to miss some practice time later this week. Driver had trouble with the injury in practice last week but played in the game, in which he had only three catches for 31 yards.

  • ILB A.J. Hawk likely will need some practice time off this week because of a groin strain. Hawk played the entire game and was credited with a game-high 13 tackles.

  • RT Mark Tauscher, in the words of coach Mike McCarthy, is "still a ways away" from returning to the field. Tauscher has missed the last two games because of a shoulder sprain. Rookie Bryan Bulaga started in Tauscher's place again Sunday and struggled against OLB Cameron Wake, who had three of the Dolphins' five sacks.

  • P Tim Masthay is under the gun after an inconsistent performance Sunday. Masthay averaged only 38 yards gross and 33.4 yards net with five punts. McCarthy was particularly disturbed by a 37-yard punt that gave the Dolphins great field position near midfield for their game-winning drive to a field goal in overtime.

  • CB Tramon Williams has a team-high two interceptions, both in the last two games. Williams also is No. 1 among the cornerback group with eight pass breakups this season.


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