Rookie James Starks is expected to begin practicing with the team Wednesday. Starks, who has a hamstring injury, has been on the physically unable to perform list, along with cornerback Al Harris and safety Atari Bigby, and had to sit out the first six weeks of the season by league rule.
While veteran Harris could be ready as soon as this week to contribute and fellow former starter Bigby may not be far behind, no one knows how soon Starks can be a factor, if at all the remainder of the season.
"I think it's obvious that's a huge question mark," coach Mike McCarthy said. "Atari and Al Harris have battled, have played in games here, know our system of football. You're talking about two veterans.
"Starks, we just want to get him out and see him in pads and get him in that environment. We're really evaluating him totally differently."
The Packers have no idea what Starks looks like in pads, other than seeing him on game film in college in their pre-draft preparations.
He was hurt in a spring workout shortly after arriving in Green Bay as a sixth-round draft pick, and the injury kept him out until now.
Starks last played in a game 21 1/2 months ago, at the end of his junior season with the University at Buffalo in the International Bowl on Jan. 3, 2009. He missed his entire senior season last year after having shoulder surgery.
The Packers, though, were sold on what the 6-foot-2, 218-pound Starks accomplished before that injury. He needed only three years to become Buffalo's career leader in rushing yards (3,140) and rushing touchdowns (34).
Since Green Bay may need the full three-week window to decide whether to activate Starks, it's conceivable he won't get his first sniff of game action until Nov. 21 after the Packers come off their bye.
That may be too late to get the Ryan Grant-less running game on track, what with the Packers slumping at 3-3 and staring at a big stretch of three games before the bye. Green Bay ranks 19th in the league with a rushing average of 101.8 yards per game.
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 had 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.