The Green Bay Packers figure to get one of their high-profile defensive players back for Sunday’s NFC North showdown at Chicago.
That player is not Charles Woodson.
The Packers have ruled out Woodson, even though he practiced all of last week. Outside linebacker Clay Matthews, however, did return in a limited capacity on Wednesday and expects to play in his first game since injuring his hamstring on Nov. 4 against Arizona.
“We’ll obviously limit the reps and increase them as the week goes on, but I feel good,” Matthews said. “We’ve had an adequate amount of time to get ready and healthy and (am) coming back at this thing feeling ready and fresh for the last part of the season.”
Matthews said a “younger” player might have pushed the rehab harder to get back sooner, but with the team winning and the defense holding its own in his absence, he and the training staff kept the “bigger picture” in mind. Having dealt with hamstring injuries in previous training camps, Matthews said he knows his body well enough to know when he’s fully healthy and ready.
“With an opportunity to clinch this thing (the NFC North title) and an opportunity to get into the playoffs, ultimately that’s the big picture here,” he said. “It’s to get healthy and go into this last part of the season and the playoffs full strength and full speed. Hopefully, that’s the case and today was a good step.”
When Matthews faced the Bears on Sept. 13, he sacked Jay Cutler 3.5 times. The Packers had a total of two sacks over the last three games.
“He and Charles both, they’re extremely good players and they’re leaders on that defense,” Cutler said during his conference call, conducted before McCarthy announced Woodson’s status. “If those guys are back in action, it’s a different ball club. They’re going to get a little bit more confident. They’re going to make some plays here and there that they’re probably not making right now. If Clay’s in there, we’re going to have to account for him in the pass rush.”
As for Woodson, McCarthy said his Pro Bowl defensive back feels like he’s “ready to play” but hasn’t been cleared by the training staff. McCarthy said Woodson is “very close” to playing and didn’t suffer a setback.
“This is in the best interest of Charles and what’s in front of us,” McCarthy said. “I know it’s disappointing, frustrating for him but he’s continuing to rehab. That’s basically where he’s been all day.”
Meanwhile, T.J. Lang returned to practice. While certainly subject to change, the early indication is Lang will be back at left guard and Don Barclay will remain in the lineup at right tackle. That would put Evan Dietrich-Smith back on the bench, even though he won a game ball for his play on Sunday night against Detroit.
“We’re going to use the week to make that decision but I thought T.J. looked pretty good. I’m curious to see what he said,” McCarthy said.
Here’s what Lang said: “I was taking a couple different reps at a few different spots but most of them were inside. I’d be lying to you if I tell you it didn’t feel good to be back there (at left guard). Obviously, that’s where I played most of my games here and it’s probably my most comfortable spot.”
The Packers figure to be without Jordy Nelson for a second consecutive game because of his injured hamstring. McCarthy called him a "long shot."
Defensive end Mike Neal was back after missing last week’s game against Detroit. He injured his shoulder in the Minnesota game, though he couldn’t pinpoint when it occurred.
“Honestly, I didn’t even expect to practice today. I don’t even think (position coach Mike Trgovac) expected me to be out there. He looked at me and said, ‘You’re practicing?’ It felt good today. I moved around pretty good. I tried to wear it out as much as I can to see where it was at and there was no pain or anything.”
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.