Packers Put Veteran Pass Rusher on IR, Sign Ex-Steelers RB

Kerrith Whyte Signing

Getty Running back Kerrith Whyte #40 of the Pittsburgh Steelers rushes the football against the Arizona Cardinals during the NFL game at State Farm Stadium on December 08, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. The Steelers defeated the Cardinals 23-17.

A few roster adjustments have been made following the Green Bay Packers’ rough weekend with injuries.

Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst placed veteran pass rusher Whitney Mercilus on injured reserve and signed backup outside linebacker Tipa Galeai from the practice squad to fill his spot on the 53-man roster on Tuesday, November 16. The moves come as no surprise after ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported a day earlier that Mercilus tore his biceps in Week 10’s win over Seattle and would miss the rest of the 2021 season.

The Packers also signed former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Kerrith Whyte Jr. and outside linebacker La’Darius Hamilton to the practice squad, releasing defensive lineman Auzoyah Alufohai to clear the necessary space. Hamilton had spent about two months of their active roster before getting released last week and is now back for the sake of depth with injuries impacting both Mercilus and starter Rashan Gary.

The addition of Whyte is also a direct response to injuries, as star running back Aaron Jones suffered a knee injury against the Seahawks and is expected to miss a few weeks despite (hopefully) avoiding a stint on injured reserve. The Packers have AJ Dillon and Patrick Taylor poised to take over as the primary options in the backfield, but it is likely they will add a third rusher to their active roster before taking on the Minnesota Vikings in Week 11 to give themselves a safety net. That could be Whyte, or it could be former Jacksonville Jaguars backup Ryquell Armstead — who was signed on November 3.

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Whyte Could Offer Alternative on Kickoff Returns

Whyte doesn’t have the kind of rushing production that jumps off the page at this point in his career. He was a 2019 seventh-round pick for the Chicago Bears, but the only actual football he has played since college was the six games he suited up for the Pittsburgh Steelers as a rookie after they signed him off the Bears’ practice squad. During that stretch, he averaged 5.1 yards on 24 carries, which is decent for a limited role but too small of a sample to completely evaluate his abilities.

What does make Whyte interesting, however, is his background as a kick returner. He returned 14 kickoffs for an average of 18.9 yards with the Steelers and was considerably more prolific during his final three seasons at Florida Atlantic, touting a career average of 26.1 yards on 81 returns with two of them taken for touchdowns. If the Packers have any doubts about Malik Taylor as their kickoff returner, Whyte might have a chance to push for a spot on the active roster.

Packers Elevating Armstead Seems Likely

While the Packers added another running back to the mix on Tuesday, they also signaled a bigger role could be in store for Armstead in the weeks ahead while Jones is recovering from his knee injury.

According to the NFL’s transaction wire, Green Bay used one of its four weekly practice-squad protections on Armstead to prevent another team from signing him away to their active roster. The Packers have traditionally reserved those protections for essential backups — such as second-string kicker JJ Molson and third-string quarterback Kurt Benkert — but there have been exceptions for players who are expected to either be elevated or outright signed to the active roster. Galeai was one of them for the past few weeks, and now he is a full-fledged member of the 53-man roster.

Armstead is certainly a rusher who has shown some versatility out of the backfield. After the Jaguars selected him in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL draft, he ground out 108 rushing yards and five first downs in a limited role behind Leonard Fournette, adding another 14 receptions for 144 yards and two touchdowns on 24 targets. He would have had a decent chance at replacing Fournette as the lead back in 2020 if not for a serious bout with COVID-19  kept him from taking a regular-season snap.

Even if the Packers are confident leading with Dillon and Taylor during Jones’ absence, there are far worse backup plans to have on hand than Armstead.

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