The Green Bay Packers are less than 24 hours away from their first practice of 2021 training camp and have no ambiguity about whether Aaron Rodgers will be in attendance, but there are several other starters who will surprisingly start the summer on the sideline.
The Packers added injury designations for seven more players on Tuesday as veterans were due to report for camp, according to the NFL transaction wire. Six of them were placed on the non-football injury list, including star outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith, starting cornerback Kevin King, starting defensive lineman Kingsley Keke, outside linebacker Tipa Galeai and safeties Will Redmond and Henry Black.
The non-football injury list is reserved for players who have sustained injuries away from practice or games. They are eligible to return to practice as soon as they are cleared medically.
The Packers also moved All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari onto the active/physically unable to perform (PUP) list, as was expected given he is still in recovery from an ACL tear he sustained on New Year’s Eve. The new additions join four others — running back Patrick Taylor (PUP), tight end Josiah Deguara (PUP) and linebackers Isaiah McDuffie (non-football injury) and Ray Wilborn (reserve/COVID-19 list) — who were previously given injury or reserve designations.
Update: Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst said Wednesday morning several of the players placed on the non-football injury list are going through procedural things with their pre-camp physical and that he doesn’t expect many of them to be long-term absences. He did not clarify which players would be quick to come off the list or could potentially miss more time.
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King Can’t Afford Time Away in Camp
Packers fans may groan at the sight of King receiving another injury designation. The fifth-year cornerback has never gone a full season without missing at least one game due to injuries, including in 2020 when he was sidelined for five consecutive weeks with a quad issue. And while it remains to be seen what his new injury is or how long it might keep him sidelined, King can’t really afford to spend much time away from practice with first-round rookie Eric Stokes looking to compete for his starting job.
King, a 2017 second-round pick, was brought back on a one-year, $5 million contract after many presumed he would not be retained as an unrestricted free agent. He didn’t have a terrible year overall in 2020, but it ended with one of the most miserable performances of his career in the NFC Championship Game, during which he infamously allowed a just-before-the-half touchdown to Scotty Miller that allowed Tampa Bay to take a 21-10 lead into halftime.
Now, the Packers are essentially giving him a chance to redeem himself in 2021, but it could take a career-best year for them to feel comfortable keeping him beyond this season. The only way that happens is if he is on the field and able to defend himself against Stokes’ challenge.
Black & Galeai Move to Bubble Watch
Like with King, it is hard to speculate too much on these non-football injury designations until more is known about what is holding each player back. It could be something harmless or precautionary that is intended to preserve long-term health, as seems likely with Smith. The veteran outside linebacker appeared periodically on the Packers’ injury report last season but was always capable of playing, even if it cost him a practice here or there.
For second-year undrafted rookies like Black and Galeai, though, they’d better hope the issues don’t keep them away from the action for too long.
The Packers have the starters squared away at both the outside linebacker and safety positions. Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage Jr have been consistently good in the secondary for Green Bay over the past two years, while the combination of Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith and Rashan Gary is typically enough to handle the bulk of the pass-rushing opportunities. Black and Galeai both could have a shot at seizing a deeper-depth role … if they can compete.
If not, however, the Packers will gladly let some of the other guys on the roster take their reps in practice and throughout the preseason. Guys like Vernon Scott, a 2020 seventh-round pick, or undrafted rookie Christian Uphoff could be a threat to Black if he misses time. The same thing goes for Galeai with edge rushers such as Jonathan Garvin, Delontae Scott and Carlo Kemp looking to make an impact in 2021.