Pack­ers get a glimpse of life with­out start­ing tack­les

Packer Plus - - News - TOM SILVERSTEIN

– If the Green Bay Pack­ers are go­ing to go any­where this sea­son, they’re not go­ing to do it with an of­fen­sive line in tat­ters.

For one Septem­ber evening they were able to func­tion of­fen­sively with­out both their start­ing tack­les, but if this is the of­fen­sive line that they have to win with in the play­offs, they’re go­ing to be in trou­ble.

The ef­fort Kyle Mur­phy and Justin McCray gave fill­ing in at the two tackle spots was as good as any­one could ex­pect, es­pe­cially against the de­fend­ing NFC cham­pi­ons open­ing their brand new sta­dium.

The two fought off the speedy At­lanta Fal­cons de­fense as best they could in a 34-23 loss Sun­day night at Mercedes-Benz Sta­dium. But quar­ter­back Aaron Rodgers was un­der pres­sure the en­tire night and his two turnovers were dev­as­tat­ing to a team that needed to match the Fal­cons’ high-scor­ing of­fense.

“Two new tack­les, brand new loud sta­dium, on turf, nine-man ro­ta­tion de­fen­sive line, it is all part of game plan­ning,” Pack­ers coach Mike McCarthy said. “We were pre­pared to play in what­ever di­rec­tion we needed to play. That’s the NFL. That’s foot­ball.”

It’s also the route gen­eral man­ager Ted Thomp­son de­cided to go this sea­son, count­ing on sec­ond-year tack­les Ja­son Spriggs and Mur­phy and firstyear guard/cen­ters Lu­cas Pa­trick and McCray to back up his starters.

Thomp­son could have scoured the waiver wire for a vet­eran once he de­cided to put vet­eran Don Bar­clay (an­kle) on in­jured re­serve, but he chose to go young. When he needed an­other line­man this week, he called up un­drafted rookie guard Adam Pankey from the prac­tice squad.

Hav­ing Spriggs (ham­string) healthy would have been nice, but he had not been play­ing as well as Mur­phy and prob­a­bly wouldn’t have given Rodgers as good of pro­tec­tion on his blind­side as Mur­phy did.

The Fal­cons game gave McCarthy an in-depth look at what life might be like if one or both of his tack­les suf­fer sea­son-end­ing in­juries. Maybe Mur­phy and McCray will get bet­ter, but what he saw Sun­day is pretty much what he has.

McCarthy made the de­ci­sion to move Mur­phy from right tackle — the po­si­tion at which he started for Bryan Bu­laga in the sea­son opener — to left tackle af­ter it be­came clear that David Bahk­tiari’s ham­string in­jury would not al­low him to play.

Mur­phy started his sec­ond game at the of­fen­sive line’s tough­est po­si­tion and played bet­ter than some other emer­gency fill-ins the Pack­ers have had to go with over the years.

“The guy com­peted and fought his ass off,” Bakhtiari said. “For some­one who plays the po­si­tions and un­der­stands what he has to do… I know he wants to be bet­ter and he’s go­ing to be bet­ter.

“I don’t give an (ex­ple­tive) what any­body else writes about him, he com­peted. Kyle com­peted his ass off tonight.”

Bakhtiari was listed on the in­jury re­port all week with a ham­string in­jury he suf­fered against Seat­tle in Week 1, but he tried to prac­tice last Wed­nes­day and Thurs­day. Af­ter spend­ing all day re­hab­bing Fri­day, he let Mur­phy take all the reps at left tackle dur­ing Satur­day’s prac­tice and waited un­til Sun­day to make a fi­nal de­ci­sion.

He did some work be­fore the game, but ul­ti­mately it was de­ter­mined that he would not be able to play.

“We were just be­ing smart,” Bakhtiari said. “The in­jury sucks. I don’t like not be­ing out there. I don’t like miss­ing prac­tice or games. It’s tough. But it’s a de­ci­sion we thought was best for the team.”

Bakhtiari said it was too early to know what his sta­tus for next week would be. He said he would con­tinue on the same sched­ule he was on last week and do ev­ery­thing he could to be ready for the Cincin­nati Ben­gals.

“I think we’re go­ing to go the same ap­proach,” Bakhtiari said. “At­tack the train­ing room and do what I can on the prac­tice field and put my­self in the best sit­u­a­tion to suit up with the 46 on Sun­day. That’s all I can do (to the best of) my power.”

With Mur­phy on the left side, some­one had to fill in for right tackle Bu­laga, who was also ruled out. It was less of a sur­prise given he had missed two days of prac­tice with the flu and hadn’t got­ten a chance to work on his in­jured an­kle.

Real­iz­ing that they could run into this prob­lem later in the week, the Pack­ers smartly started work­ing guard/cen­ter McCray at right tackle. He split reps with Mur­phy at the po­si­tion in an at­tempt to reac­quaint him­self with right tackle, a po­si­tion he played dur­ing his sopho­more and ju­nior years in col­lege.

“Af­ter the Seat­tle game, I was telling them that I wanted to be avail­able to be wher­ever or do what­ever they needed me to do,” McCray said. “I got a lot of work to make sure I was pre­pared in a short amount of time.

“They split us around to make sure we got reps where we might pos­si­bly end up. The did a good job of that.”

At­lanta didn’t do any­thing ex­otic to con­fuse Mur­phy and McCray, but they didn’t need to. They sacked Rodgers three times and knocked him down four times, sev­eral of them vi­cious hits, in­clud­ing one that re­sulted in Rodgers throw­ing a back­ward pass that was re­turned 15 yards for a touch­down by Des­mond Tr­u­fant.

Even though the of­fense carved out a nice 11-play, 75yard TD drive on its first pos­ses­sion, it couldn’t sus­tain any­thing un­til the fourth quar­ter when McCarthy went to no-hud­dle and a quick tempo.

“Of­fen­sively, wish we would have played the game like we did the first se­ries with the mix of the run and pass and mov­ing the ball,” McCarthy said.

“Also, the tackle sit­u­a­tion, I thought Kyle Mur­phy did a heck of a job from the mid­dle of the sec­ond quar­ter on we didn’t help him any­more.

“We had Justin McCray ready to go out there and play out of po­si­tion. I thought he showed a lot of fight. The turnover ra­tio, they def­i­nitely won that.”

RICK WOOD / MIL­WAU­KEE JOUR­NAL SEN­TINEL

Quar­ter­back Aaron Rodgers (left) was un­der pres­sure most of the game Sun­day night in part be­cause the Pack­ers were with­out both start­ing tack­les on the of­fen­sive line.

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