The Green Bay Packers face perhaps the NFLs best rushing offense in the Sept. 8 season opener against the Minnesota Vikings, and it looks like they might finally have their top run stopper back.
Defensive tackle Ryan Pickett got onto the practice field on Monday afternoon for the first time after missing all of training camp and the preseason with a hamstring injury. Though the Packers dont have to issue an official practice or injury report until Thursday, coach Mike McCarthy confirmed that Pickett worked today.
The Packers put Pickett through a multitude of tests over the weekend and finally cleared him to return for Mondays practice.
Pickett wasnt sure how many snaps he would play in the opener against the Vikings but considering how thin the Packers are at defensive tackle and that the Vikings last season led the league in rushing yards and rushing average thanks in large part to running back Adrian Peterson Pickett could get his usual workload despite missing the entire preseason.
General Manager Ted Thompson kept only three true defensive tackles Pickett, Johnny Jolly and Colin Cole on the 53-man roster. Last season, they opened with six, although only four were activated for the first game.
Were going to have a three-man rotation instead of six, Pickett said. I think its going to be great, and maybe Ill get more plays this year than I had last year. My first year (in Green Bay in 2006) I had so many and then it almost got cut in half last year. Im looking forward to having more plays.
Though Pickett was sweating at his locker following his post-practice shower, he said he never felt winded during practice.
I actually felt lighter on my feet if you can believe that, he said.
Pickett wouldnt disclose his weight, although he acknowledged that hes heavier than 330, which was his listed weight on the roster.
Just a little bit, but not too much, Pickett said. Im right on point. Im actually probably lighter than I was at this point last year.
KGB returns, too
Pickett wasnt the only defensive lineman to return to practice on Monday.
Defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila returned a week after he experienced a setback with his surgically repaired knee.
I did a little something out there today, he said after practice, and it felt good.
Asked whether it felt different than last Monday, when he returned only to drop out a day later due to recurring soreness, he said: It felt good, so thats very encouraging.
Center Scott Wells also returned to practice on Monday after missing the last two preseason games with a lower back injury.
Others who appeared to be limited or out of practice were: safeties Atari Bigby (ankle) and Charlie Peprah (hamstring), linebackers A.J. Hawk (chest) and Tracy White (ankle), receiver James Jones (knee), guard Josh Sitton (knee), left tackle Chad Clifton (rest) and defensive end Jeremy Thompson (groin).
Its unlikely any of those players will return for Tuesdays practice but some could come back after Wednesdays off day.
I wanted to make sure I split the workload up and did all the heavy lifting early in the week but give the guys that are nicked time to get ready, McCarthy said. And well get their work at the end of the week.
Hodge is gone
To make room on the 53-man roster for new long snapper Brett Goode, the Packers cut linebacker Abdul Hodge, a third-round pick from the 2006 draft.
Hodge had a good training camp after patellar-tendon surgeries sidelined him all last season.
At the initial cuts to 53 players on Saturday, General Manager Ted Thompson kept Hodge as a seventh linebacker, which is one more than usual. But Thompson decided to cut Hodge instead of, among others, linebacker Tracy White, rookie tackle Breno Giacomini, safety Charlie Peprah and cornerback-safety Jarrett Bush.
Thompson said the Packers tried to trade Hodge over the weekend before cutting him Monday morning to make room for Goode.
Here are some notables from the teams unofficial depth chart, which the Packers released Monday:
Will Blackmon was listed as the punt returner ahead of Jordy Nelson and Tramon Williams. Blackmon and Nelson were listed as the top two kickoff returners ahead of Williams, Pat Lee and Kregg Lumpkin.
Blackmon was listed as the backup cornerback behind Charles Woodson, while Williams was behind Al Harris. That means Blackmon moved ahead of Jarrett Bush as the No. 4 cornerback.
The interior of the offensive line was Daryn Colledge at left guard, Wells at center and Jason Spitz at right guard.