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Packers banged up heading to opener

The Sports Xchange As preseason openers go, the Green Bay Packers' approach to their first dress rehearsal Thursday night may be as low-key as it gets. Their opponent on the road just happens to be the reigning NFL champions, the New England Patr...

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Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews stretches during training camp at Ray Nitschke Field. (Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports)

The Sports Xchange

 

As preseason openers go, the Green Bay Packers’ approach to their first dress rehearsal Thursday night may be as low-key as it gets.

Their opponent on the road just happens to be the reigning NFL champions, the New England Patriots.

Yet, several injury issues early in training camp, none of which appears to be significant, might prompt coach Mike McCarthy to give more playing time than usual for an opening preseason game to his non-starters.

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McCarthy didn’t even know Monday if his team would be well-equipped from a health standpoint to practice in pads on Tuesday before it departs for the East Coast the next day.

“You have to be flexible,” McCarthy said. “You have to pay close attention to how your team is doing (physically) as far as certain positions.

“Each and every year, it’s a different position, it seems like. This year, the outside linebacker position is really stressed.”

After having only four outside linebackers participate in the Family Night practice before a crowd of more than 67,000 at Lambeau Field on Saturday, the depleted unit gained some relief Monday.

All-Pro Clay Matthews went through the full practice of 90-plus minutes without incident. Matthews had been sidelined for a full week because of knee soreness that set in after only three days of camp practices.

McCarthy said before Monday’s practice that Matthews’ return to the field would be on a trial-and-error basis.

Afterward, Matthews provided a positive report.

“It felt pretty good; it held up,” he said.

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Matthews, however, wouldn’t say whether he will be cleared to play on Thursday.

“Any opportunity to be out there, especially in regards to preseason games, I think is very important,” Matthews said. “But, there’s always other factors that go along with that.”

With Matthews being trained since the offseason to have a considerable role at inside linebacker as well as his natural spot on the outside for rushing the passer, the Packers are having a difficult time having a sufficient corps of outside linebackers in practice.

Sixth-year pro Mike Neal made his belated camp debut Monday. He had been on the physically unable to perform list since the start of the preseason after undergoing offseason surgery for a recurring sports hernia.

Former first-round draft pick Nick Perry, a top candidate to play opposite veteran Julius Peppers when Matthews works inside, sustained a groin injury in practice last week and has yet to return.

Green Bay’s defense also is hurting up front. Two of its returning starters, end Mike Daniels (ankle) and tackle Letroy Guion (hamstring), didn’t practice Monday and would seem to be questionable for Thursday’s game.

 

NFL Team Report

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-Tim Masthay can sleep better now. After disclosing Monday that he often awoke in the middle of the night thinking about his then-ongoing run of abysmal performances toward the end of last season, the veteran punter gained some relief.

Masthay learned right before practice started Monday afternoon that the Packers cut his young challenger, Cody Mandell.

“It’s an encouraging sign, certainly,” Masthay said. “It sends a message to me that it’s a vote of confidence from the organization. At least that’s the way I perceive it.”

Since coach Mike McCarthy talked to reporters before practice Monday and before Mandell’s release was announced, it’s unknown why the Packers jettisoned the first-year pro from Alabama so early in training camp. The decision came only three days before Green Bay plays its preseason opener Thursday at the New England Patriots.

 

-Training camp isn’t even two weeks old, and QB Aaron Rodgers already has more interceptions than he threw in the regular season of his NFL MVP-earning 2014 season.

A pick by second-year safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the team’s Family Night practice before a crowd of 67,000-plus at Lambeau Field on Saturday raised Rodgers’ interception total in camp practices to six.

Rodgers had a career-low five interceptions last season, when he passed for 38 touchdowns and nearly 4,400 yards with an astounding efficiency rating of 112.2.

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Last week, Rodgers suggested the early run of interceptions by defensive teammates at his expense hasn’t been by accident. He alluded to purposely putting the so-called 50-50 balls up for grabs when he’s throwing in the direction of his young receivers as a trial-by-fire test.

“You have to show it in practice in order for me to feel comfortable making those throws in the game,” Rodgers explained. “That’s kind of what this is all about. You make some of these throws and see how the guys respond. And, if they’re making the plays, then they’re going to get more opportunities in the preseason and probably be around for the regular season. If they’re not making those plays, they probably won’t be around.”

 

-WR Ty Montgomery has earned rave reviews from his older teammates on offense by being a quick study and showing up for meetings not only attentive but also asking pertinent questions.

Besides holding down no worse than the No. 4 spot on the pecking order at receiver behind Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams, Montgomery is the front-runner to return kickoffs when the season starts Sept. 13.

“Effort, attitude and selflessness,” Montgomery said Monday. “You’ve got to always give 100 percent effort, you’ve got to always have a positive mental attitude, and you’ve got to always be selfless. When the ball’s not coming your way, you’ve got to cover the football, and you’ve got to make sure you block for the guys that are getting the football.”

 

PLAYER NOTES

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-LB Clay Matthews practiced Monday after missing the previous week because of knee soreness. The all-star outside linebacker, who has been training as an inside linebacker in Green Bay’s base defense, isn’t sure if he will be cleared to play the preseason opener Thursday at the New England Patriots.

-DE Mike Daniels was held out of practice Monday because of an ankle injury. His availability for Thursday’s preseason game at New England is uncertain.

-DT Letroy Guion has been sidelined since late last week because of a hamstring injury. His availability for Thursday’s preseason opener at New England is uncertain.

-OLB Mike Neal practiced Monday for the first time in training camp. Neal, a sixth-year pro, started the preseason on the physically unable to perform list as he recovered from offseason surgery for a sports hernia. Neal isn’t expected to play the first exhibition game Thursday at New England.

-OLB Nick Perry has been sidelined since Thursday because of a groin injury. Perry’s availability for Thursday’s preseason game at New England is up in the air.

-WR Jared Abbrederis remains out. Abbrederis, a fifth-round draft pick in 2014 who missed his entire rookie season because of a torn ACL, has been sidelined since suffering a concussion on the first practice day of training camp July 30.

-WR Javess Blue watched practice Monday with his left arm in a sling. The undrafted rookie from Kentucky sustained a shoulder injury when he rolled out of bounds on a pass play and collided with a Packers staff member on the sideline in the team’s Family Night practice at Lambeau Field on Saturday.

BATTLE OF THE WEEK

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Inside linebackers

The return of Clay Matthews to practice Monday after being out of action a full week because of knee soreness early in training camp was a welcome sight. Yet, with Matthews’ seemingly a good bet to not play the first preseason game Thursday at the New England Patriots given his immense value to the defense, the coaches will get a long look at young candidates who are vying to contribute at inside linebacker. The transition of Matthews to inside linebacker going back to the second half of last season isn’t being considered on a full-time basis. Matthews still will be moved around and counted on to wreak havoc as a pass rusher from his natural spot on the outside. Hence, when the Packers resort to their heavily tabbed pass-defense packages, they will need to pair incumbent starter Sam Barrington with someone other than Matthews.

Nate Palmer, a third-year pro who has been moved from outside linebacker, is listed as the starter beside Barrington on the team’s first depth chart of the preseason. Next in line are Jake Ryan and Carl Bradford, taken in the fourth round of the 2015 and ‘14 drafts, respectively. Given the upheaval at the position after veteran starters A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones were cut early in the offseason, head coach Mike McCarthy is expecting production sooner than later. “It’s a big opportunity for the inside linebackers, and they need to start making more plays, frankly,” an unhappy McCarthy said a few days into camp. “They need to settle in and start playing.”

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