GREEN BAY — Nathaniel Hackett can claim all he wants that he feels “great” — yes, that’s the word the Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator used this week — about piecing together a game plan for an offense that could be without its top three wide receivers. And maybe he believes it in his ultra-optimistic heart.
But having ruled out No. 1 wide receiver Davante Adams out for the third straight game with a turf toe injury, and with Geronimo Allison (concussion/chest) listed as doubtful and Marquez Valdes-Scantling (knee/ankle) listed as questionable, the Packers could go into Sunday’s game with only four wide receivers available to quarterback Aaron Rodgers: Allen Lazard, Jake Kumerow, Darrius Shepherd and recently-signed Ryan Grant, who arrived in town on Tuesday night.
“I feel great. It gives people an opportunity to step up and compete. You get to find how guys operate out on the field,” Hackett insisted. “There are so many things we can’t control in this game. You’ve just got to keep your head down and keep working and find a way and treat it as a challenge.”
There’s no doubt about that. If the Packers are without Valdes-Scantling, who was able to return to Monday night’s win over the Lions after sustaining his injuries and caught a crucial 46-yard deep ball from Rodgers, then the four remaining wide receivers will enter the game with a not-so-grand total of 16 career regular-season receptions in a Packers uniform. Grant, in his sixth NFL season, has 123 career receptions including four for 14 yards with the Raiders before his release last month.
“Crash course. It’s been a grind,” Grant said of learning the playbook since his arrival. “I’ve really just been honing in on the plays and trying to learn as much as I can for this weekend to help us on Sunday. I’m not trying to step on anyone’s toes or anything like that. I’m just here to help.”
Packers coach Matt LaFleur said he’s still holding out hope Allison will clear the concussion protocol and Valdes-Scantling will be able to go — “We’ve got 48 hours to see if they can come around,” he said — but acknowledged the coaches spent the week game-planning for not having any of them.
“That is a challenge when you’re not quite sure if a guy is going to be available, because you’re trying to get guys in the right spot to accentuate your strengths,” LaFleur said. “When you’re unsure, it does present a little bit of a problem. You’ve got to just make your best guess — as to if a guy is going to be available.”
Valdes-Scantling, who expressed confidence at midweek that he’d play because he’d been able to finish Monday night’s game, admitted there’s ample doubt now.
“I’ve gotten better every single day. We’ll see. I’ll do some more stuff and we’ll see what happens. You never know,” Valdes-Scantling said. “If I can go, I’ll go. If I can’t, obviously I won’t do anything to hurt the team or hurt my career. We’ve got a long season ahead, so that’s the plan.”
The Packers did get tight end Jimmy Graham (ankle) back at practice and listed him as questionable, but tight end Robert Tonyan (hip) did not practice and is doubtful. Tonyan didn’t play against the Lions, either.
On defense, safety Darnell Savage (ankle) will miss his second straight game while cornerback Tony Brown (hamstring) and nose tackle Kenny Clark (calf/back) are questionable. Clark admitted the injuries have been bothering him for awhile now.
“I don’t really want to get too much into it,” Clark said. “But it’s stuff I’ve been dealing with.”
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Celebrations back on
A day after edge rushers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith bemoaned the fact LaFleur had told them to tone down their post-sack celebrations, the outside linebacker duo reported to work Friday morning to a surprise in the daily team meeting: A video LaFleur had put together of the twosome complaining to reporters about LaFleur admonishing them and an instructional video to explain what is and isn’t OK with him.
On Thursday, Za’Darius Smith had said, “Coach doesn’t want me to do celebrations anymore. I had one for this week. It was going to be nice. (But) Coach, he felt (in) situations during that time that the punt team or they want to go for fourth down, I’m taking up too much time. So if you (reporters) get a chance, talk to him, hit up (NFL commissioner) Roger Goodell, see if we can get some celebration time.”
Asked about those comments Friday, LaFleur chuckled, “That is incorrect. What I told him was that they better be done in a timely manner. I don’t want to see these guys celebrating when I see the punt team’s already out on the field, or it’s a third down and we have to burn a timeout, or we get flagged for too many men on the field.”
So in the meeting, LaFleur showed the interview clip, then followed it with a clip from a 2014 game between the Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs in which Sio Moore and Khalil Mack sacked quarterback Alex Smith with about 30 seconds left in a game the Raiders were leading 28-24. The sack set up a fourth-and-13, and Mack and Moore celebrated for so long that teammate Justin Tuck had to call a timeout before the Chiefs snapped the ball with those two still on the other side of the line of scrimmage, celebrating.
“They were on the other side of the line, celebrating and Kansas City’s getting ready to snap the ball and they had to burn a timeout,” LaFleur said. “I want our guys to celebrate, to have fun. I like it when they celebrate together as a team and you certainly you want to have reasons to celebrate. But (we) just have to be smart about how we go about that.”
The Smiths said they have a Halloween-themed celebration planned for Sunday — and previewed it for LaFleur in the hallway Friday afternoon.
“And it won’t take up as much time as we have been taking,” Za’Darius Smith said.
LaFleur was asked about his philosophy when it comes to quarterback sneaks, since Rodgers rarely runs them and the Chiefs lost Patrick Mahomes to a knee injury Thursday night on one.
“We’ve used them in the past, and I think it all depends on your quarterback,” LaFleur said. “If you look at the percentage of the success rate of them, they’re typically pretty successful. Without giving too much away, there’s certain situations when I don’t like to use them. But I definitely think if you look at the percentages they are an effective play.”
Asked if he’s considered using Rodgers on sneaks, LaFleur replied, “We’ve definitely talked about it and it’ll be something we continue to talk about moving forward.”