The Green Bay Packers are not expecting to have their defensive line at full strength for this weekend’s divisional-round playoff opener against the Los Angeles Rams at Lambeau Field.
Per Thursday’s final injury report of the week, the Packers have listed starting defensive lineman Kingsley Keke as doubtful to play on Saturday as he remains in the league’s concussion protocol. He has not practiced since sustaining his concussion in Week 16’s win over Tennessee.
— Olivia Reiner (@ReinerOlivia) January 14, 2021
Keke played in each of the Packers’ first 15 games, starting in nine, and took a noticeable step forward in his second year with 21 tackles, four sacks, three tackles for a loss, eight quarterback hits and a forced fumble. Overall, the 2019 fifth-round pick became more competent as both a run-stopper and passer rush this season, which makes him a less-than-ideal defender to lose in January.
With Keke likely out of play, the Packers could look to newcomer Damon “Snacks” Harrison to be a bigger contributor against the Rams. He took just 12 defensive snaps during his debut in Week 17 against the Chicago Bears but now has had an additional two weeks to get acclimated to Green Bay’s system.
No other Packers were given status designations in Thursday’s injury report, but cornerback Kevin King (Achilles), wide receivers Allen Lazard (core/wrist) and Equanimeous St. Brown (knee/ankle), outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith (ankle/thumb) and offensive tackle Rick Wagner were all listed as limited participants in every practice this week. At the very least, they are things to monitor throughout the game.
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Packers Still at Mercy of COVID-19 Testing
The Packers are still holding out hope that no further positive COVID-19 tests emerge in the time leading up to Saturday’s 3:35 p.m. CT kickoff against the Rams, but the results of their daily testing will be paramount after losing veteran offensive tackle Jared Veldheer to a positive test earlier this week.
While contact tracing determined no other players had to join Veldheer when he was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Wednesday, he was still in the building all day Tuesday and spending time in meetings/on the practice field with the Packers. Just because there have no been more positives doesn’t mean there couldn’t be still, as the incubation period of the virus can be as long as 14 days, per the CDC.
The good news — at least for the most at-risk members in the offensive line room — is the Packers sound to have excellent procedures in place for handling such an issue. Billy Turner attested to the “spread out” environment for the offensive linemen, who have been using the Packers’ larger media auditorium to meet while it has not been in use during the 2020 season.
“You can’t get anywhere near the closest person to you without getting up and walking toward them,” Turner told reporters Thursday.
Here’s what Turner said in general about the Veldheer situation and the Packers’ mindset when dealing with potentially looming COVID-19 tests:
“Most teams have had positive tests and you … kind of hold your breath those next couple of days just knowing how this virus works, but our team has done a great job — Flea, Curt, all those guys in the athletic room. They’ve done a great job handling the protocols that have been put forth this year for us, and they’re very, very strict about it, which they should be because this is a very deadly virus and it’s very transmittable. With that being said, it’s an unfortunate situation for Jared, but at the same time we’re moving forward as if we’ve got all of our players and everybody up ready to play, and that’s what we’re thinking unless something else happens.”
Will Packers Promote DL from Practice Squad?
With just four healthy defensive linemen on the roster, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Packers promote one or both of their practice-squad options before Saturday.
The Packers have already elevated one choice, Brian Price, twice throughout the season, but the NFL’s postseason rules allow a practice-squad player unlimited elevations, meaning either he or Willington Previlon could be called up rather easily. They could also take the contract route and sign one of them to fill Veldheer’s spot on the 53-man roster, which remained open heading into Friday morning.
The downside is Price only saw 12 defensive snaps during his pair of call-up opportunities and even fewer (five) on special teams, recording no tackles and creating little presence. The outlook on Previlon is even less appealing given that he has not yet made his NFL debut. He never saw the field when the Packers promoted him to the game-day roster in September, making him more of an unknown but a far-from-inspiring candidate.