The 2021 Packers are a hardened, gritty and battle tested squad. For all of the injury luck they received in 2019 and 2020, they’ve been bitten badly by the injury bug this year. Coach Matt LaFleur said that help could be coming “potentially” in his Monday press conference.
Maybe this was the plan all along, but heading into the twilight of the 2021 regular season the Green Bay Packers might be getting the band back together…at the perfect time.
Jaire Alexander was back on the practice field yesterday albeit in a limited capacity, but it was great to see him out there at all.
It doesn’t sound like Jaire will necessarily suit up this Sunday, and with a matchup against a floundering Bears squad he shouldn’t be missed.
Rasul Douglas has certainly been a nice surprise and Eric Stokes has performed about as well as possible given his rookie status but neither of which offer the absolute lockdown capabilities of Jaire.
Who plays where when Jaire is ready to take the field?
Adding Jaire back into the fold is a bit of a “Champagne problem”, meaning the Packers already have two solid corners in Douglas and Stokes and you don’t want to disrupt their momentum.
I think as a general rule Jaire should shadow the opposing team’s number one receiver.
It’s been proposed that Jaire take over the covering the slot, and while there are certainly plenty of top flight receivers who play primarily out of the slot or get a fair share of targets there, it doesn’t make a ton of sense.
Jaire can erase a number one receiver on the outside without help. There are about five corners in the league with that ability.
Put Rasul Douglas at the other outside corner position where his lack of agility won’t hurt him, rotate Stokes in when the game plan dictates.
That leaves Stokes to cover the slot primarily. This is a big ask of Stokes, but he has the twitchiness and speed to match up well with shifty slot receivers. Stokes will need to trust his instincts and continue to improve his technique to succeed there.
The Packers have options and rotational depth in Chandon Sullivan, Kevin King and even Darnell Savage. That kind of depth could turn “Champagne problems” into popping Champagne come season’s end.
I think we’ll see Jaire next week against the Ravens, and if his health maintains, for the rest of the season.
David Bakhtiari is a bit more of a question mark than Jaire Alexander. Matt LaFleur and the front office have played Bakhtiari’s health close to the vest this entire season.
I think many fans expected Bakhtiari to be back shortly after his PUP-list window first opened.
Bakhtiari practiced in mid-October, but then was mysteriously shut down shortly thereafter.
Later it came out that Bakhtiari had a clean-up procedure on his surgically repaired knee.
I’m not an MD, but generally I think a clean-up after significant surgery tells me things weren’t as rosy as they initially appeared.
Coupled with the enormous contract extension Bakhtiari was handed last November and it makes sense that the organization doesn’t want to take any chances with their star bookend.
Yosh Nijman has performed admirably in the absence of Bakhtiari and more recently Elgton Jenkins.
Nijman has faced some topflight pass rush competition (and more than held his own) in the Steelers, 49ers, Bengals and most recently the L.A. Rams.
I don’t think the Packers need David Bakhtiari to lock up the #1 seed in the playoffs, but I think they do need him to win a Super Bowl.
It would be great for Baktiari to ease back in with some regular season experience but I don’t think that’s an absolute prerequisite.
I think the odds we see David Bakhtiari at some point in the regular season are about 75% and I think they’re 100% that we see him in the playoffs.
The murkiest of all injury circumstances on the Packers is Za’Darius Smith.
Smith reported to training camp with a back injury that he had picked up somewhere in the off-season.
Za’Darius gave it a go week one and then elected for back surgery and has been on the shelf ever since.
There have been whispers that there is some link between Smith’s handling of his injury and his displeasure with his current contract and not being voted a team captain.
I personally believe that NFL players of Smith’s caliber would sooner play in a full body cast than miss any time on the gridiron.
But the circumstances surrounding his status had been unusually quiet, until LaFleur said this week that Smith may be able to practice soon.
Smith coupled with the return of Jaire Alexander could be the infusion of talent that could push this defense over the top from pretty-good to championship caliber.
Smith brings two-way grit in strength protecting against the running game, and bending the edge to get to the passer.
A mix of Kenny Clark, Za’Darius & Preston Smith, Rashan Gary and De’Vondre Campbell has to be a terrifying thought to opposing QBs and defensive coordinators.
I don’t think Z needs much in the way of regular season reps to make an impact in a playoff game. If the Packers are on the cusp of the #1 seed I could see him playing in a regular season game but I think his odds are at about 30% for a regular season appearance and 90% for the playoffs.
You can follow Adam on twitter at @adamjcarlson28.