The Green Bay Packers are set to return from their bye week this Sunday night as they take on the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field. With a win and a Minnesota loss, the Packers could clinch the NFC North title and a playoff berth even with four games left on their schedule.
One issue that has hounded the Packers all season is injuries. But the team may be getting some help this week as head coach Matt LaFleur indicated some of the team’s long-term injured players may resume practicing this week.
In addition, some other players should be back as well.
Here is a look at the players the Packers could get back and where they’re at in their rehab as we enter the final five games of the regular season:
- ILB De’Vondre Campbell
The Packers placed Campbell on the Covid-19 reserve list early in the bye week. According to the NFL’s Covid protocols, Campbell can return to practice this Friday if he is asymptomatic and according to comments by the coaching staff, that is the case.
If Campbell returns to the lineup, the Packers will get back one of their most consistent and effective players and the leadership Campbell provides.
Because of the bye week, Campbell may be able to return without missing any games.
- CB Jaire Alexander
Alexander has been out of the lineup since he suffered a shoulder injury making a tackle against the Steelers in Week 4. LaFleur hinted he may be available to resume practicing this week.
When healthy, Alexander is one of the rare cornerbacks who can lock down a side of the field and take quality receivers out of the game.
In Alexander’s absence, the Packers have gotten solid play from rookie Eric Stokes and free agent addition Rasul Douglas.
If Alexander can return, the Packers could have a deep and talented group of corners that includes Alexander, Stokes, Douglas, Chandon Sullivan and when healthy, Kevin King.
Having the cornerback group healthy would be a big benefit to the team as they head to the playoffs where they may face outstanding receiving corps in Tampa Bay, Dallas and Los Angeles.
- Edge Za’Darius Smith
Za’Darius Smith led the Packers in sacks in both 2019 and 2020. This season, he missed training camp with a back injury. He played in the season opener against the Saints in a part-time role but has not played since and had to undergo back surgery.
Za’Darius has hinted at a return to practice during the bye week and LaFleur has also told reporters that his return this season would be a possibility.
The return of Za’Darius Smith would give the Packers three strong pass rushers when he joins Preston Smith and Rashan Gary on the edge.
This week, the Packers also activated Jonathan Garvin off the Covid reserve list. Garvin’s return adds to the team’s depth on the edge as well.
OT David Bakhtiari
Bakhtiari has yet to play this season. The All Pro left tackle is regarded by many experts as the best pass blocker in the NFL but he suffered a major knee injury at practice late last season that required surgery.
With Elgton Jenkins also on the IR and now lost for the season, the Packers offensive line would get a big boost with Bakhtiari’s return. He has done a great job of protecting Aaron Rodgers’ blind side since he entered the league in 2013.
Yosh Nijman has been solid at left tackle so far in the four games he started there, but the Packers need to give him help from running backs and tight ends to slow down edge rushers on his side. They also had to go with a shorter passing game to help keep Rodgers healthy and upright.
Bakhtiari could return to practice this week according to LaFleur. He had started practicing after the Packers activated him off the PUP list in November but had a setback that needed a second surgery to “clean up” his knee. It is unclear if his knee will not be sore once he returns to practice.
Keep in mind that even if all three of these players return to practice this week, it doesn’t mean they will be ready to play on Sunday against the Bears. The coaching staff will continue to be conservative with these players, knowing that having them ready to play in the playoffs is more important than a regular season game against a mediocre Chicago team.
Still, getting Bakhtiari, Za’Darius Smith and Jaire Alexander back to practice is the next step towards their eventual return to the lineup.
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