GREEN BAY — Corey Linsley had the preferred messaging down cold Thursday afternoon.
A week removed from the Martellus Bennett melodrama, the veteran Green Bay Packers center trotted out the sound bite many of his brethren have uttered during the past several days.
“We’re only concerned about the people in this locker room,” he said.
And Linsley meant it — though he said so with a smile.
Because here’s the thing about the party line: It’s true. The Packers are focused on Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens and on those who remain here to play in it. While Bennett happily continues his football career with the New England Patriots, following his seemingly miraculous recovery from a shoulder injury he claims he intended to have surgically repaired before Green Bay cut him with a “failure to disclose a medical condition” designation, the Packers have work to do.
But at least for some players, the fact that they believe Bennett quit on them when times got tough without injured quarterback Aaron Rodgers has actually brought the team closer together.
“From our perspective,” Linsley said, “it’s an even greater reason for us to hunker down and say, ‘This is our family. This is our locker room.’ And take more ownership of it.”
Both after last Sunday’s win at Chicago — a game played before Bennett debuted for the Patriots that night — and on Wednesday, a host of players continued to support team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie, whom Bennett criticized in a rambling social media post late last week.
Some players also rolled their eyes at Bennett’s version of events, although they were careful not to talk too much about him.
“At the end of the day you have to think of it as a business. Me, personally? I thought he quit on us,” safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix said Thursday. “I don’t fault him, but I did think he quit on us. He let us down — as a teammate. For a guy that came in, of his caliber, his leadership quote-unquote, I expected more from him. I held him to a higher standard, me personally. But he handled it the way he wanted to handle it.
“I honestly think winning on Sunday gave us a motivation to go out every week (going forward) and compete. That was the hump we needed to get over — winning a game, first and foremost. That Marty stuff, I’m glad we got it out of the way. It’s time to move on.”
Players said Thursday that nothing needs to be explicitly said about what happened with Bennett, but that there is an unspoken feeling among them about what it means to them going forward.
“We see everything that’s gone on. We have ESPN on in the cafeteria every day. We see the stories that come up,” wide receiver Randall Cobb said. “But you don’t really need to discuss it to know that you’re all on the same page.”
Perhaps the biggest believer in the potential good that could come out of the Bennett saga is veteran outside linebacker Clay Matthews. Having grown up in an NFL family, Matthews was mindful of how he presented his opinion – “Not that particular situation, but in general,” Matthews said, smirking as he prefaced his statement – but made it very clear that a player quitting on the other guys in the locker room is a major no-no in team sports.
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“I think it definitely has the power to galvanize a locker room. Because it shows you – especially going through difficult times – it shows you who’s in and who isn’t,” Matthews said. “We’ll obviously discover that more and more as the season goes on dealing with our starting quarterback being hurt and having a few losses. But you’re absolutely right: It brings guys together, like a refocus. It lets you know, ‘All right, get rid of the dead weight, and let’s focus on our locker room.’
“My dad, when we were growing up, he said whatever you choose to pursue in life, you see it through. I remember when I went to USC and my first training camp, I was this walk-on and had zero friends, and I came home and said, ‘I don’t want to be there anymore.’ And he said, ‘No, you signed up for this, you see it through.’
“Like when a guy’s injured, you know when guys are out there and they’re hurting and they’re not 100 percent but they’re giving it up for the guy next to them, they feel a certain sense of accountability. You love to see guys who really want to battle and fight and see it through.”
King soldiers on
Rookie cornerback Kevin King has been playing through left shoulder pain since his freshman year at Washington, and he’s worn a brace on that shoulder since arriving as the Packers’ top draft pick in the spring.
But it’s become enough of an issue that defensive coordinator Dom Capers played him only in sub packages against Chicago and it’s clearly impacting the way he plays.
“I think it was pretty obvious in the game on Sunday when he wasn’t using two hands,” Capers said. “... he’s a tough guy and he’s done a good job working his way through it, but you can see that it’s bothering him at times.”
King had surgery after his freshman year to repair a torn labrum, and issues cropped up again late last season as a junior before he declared for the draft. The shoulder forced him to miss some practice time in training camp and he’s sat out a few series here and there this season when the shoulder has acted up. But he’s still tried to be aggressive with his tackling and in getting his hands on receivers, as physical play is key to his game.
Will he need surgery after the season?
“There are different opinions,” King said. “We’ll decide if it gets to that.”
Packers coach Mike McCarthy liked what he saw from Rodgers as the injured quarterback did conditioning and agility work during Wednesday’s practice inside the Don Hutson Center — along with taking some snaps from the athletic training staff and doing a towel exercise to simulate his throwing motion.
“I think he’s making really good progress,” McCarthy said Thursday. “I know the training staff and the strength and conditioning staff are very pleased with where he is. He’s moving right along.”
The Packers practiced outside Thursday, so Rodgers wasn’t visible to his teammates or reporters if he was doing his rehab work inside the Hutson Center. Almost a month removed from Oct. 19 surgery on his fractured right collarbone, Sunday’s game against Baltimore will mark the fourth start Rodgers has missed.
He is eligible to start practicing in two weeks, per the NFL’s injured reserve rules.