Packers’ backup linemen could face long day against Bears’ Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks
GREEN BAY — The Chicago Bears’ defensive front is a Herculean challenge when you have all your preferred offensive linemen available to try to protect your quarterback and carve out holes for your running backs.
How difficult will it be for the Green Bay Packers if they have to face Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks and the rest of the Bears’ wrecking crew with three backups in the lineup Sunday at Soldier Field?
“I mean, listen, you don’t have to go on and rant about how good Khalil is and all that stuff. Everybody knows who Khalil Mack is for a reason,” said Jason Spriggs, who would start at right tackle if veteran Bryan Bulaga (knee) misses his second straight game. “Yeah, it’s a challenge. Just like every week, just go out there and play our hardest.”
Added Justin McCray, who’ll start at right guard after veteran Byron Bell (knee) was placed on season-ending injured reserve Wednesday: “They’re a great group of guys over there. We have to believe in ourselves and know that we’re a pretty good group, too, individually as well as a unit.”
McCray was the starting right guard in the opener against the Bears, when quarterback Aaron Rodgers rallied the Packers — on one leg after suffering a left knee injury during the first half — from a 20-0 deficit to win 24-23. He struggled mightily with Hicks, who sacked Rodgers on the Packers’ second offensive series that night and created havoc for much of the game before the Packers’ comeback.
McCray, bothered by a shoulder injury that dated back to training camp, eventually was shut down by the medical staff and by the time he was healthy, he’d ceded the starting job to Bell. Now, it’s up to him to neutralize Hicks more effectively than he did in the first meeting. He called Hicks “a really good player. Big guy, can move well. Lot of power. Just unorthodox. (You) never know what he’s really going to do. But he’s a really good player. I don’t think he gets enough credit for what he’s been doing in the league.”
Mack, meanwhile, has gotten plenty of credit for the impact he’s had on the Bears defense. He was making his Chicago debut after being acquired in a blockbuster trade from Oakland just days before the opener, and in that game, Mack mostly lined up on the left side of the defense, against Bulaga. Since then, he’s split his time and lined up across from both left and right tackles, as he enters Sunday with 10 of the Bears’ 40 sacks.
“He’s almost half and half, left and right,” Spriggs said. “It’s almost like the whole defensive front is playing a little more confident with him in there, and there’s really no weak link. I think he brings a level of confidence to everybody on the defense, and we just have to key on that and make hay when we get the chances.”
Asked how he approaches blocking Mack, who was the 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year in Oakland, Spriggs replied, “You can’t go out there and be like, you’re blocking God. But at the same time, you give respect where respect’s due, because if you set up where he’s some Joe Schmo, he’ll make you look silly. You definitely have to give him the respect that he’s earned. But you don’t bow down to him.”
In last Sunday’s win over Atlanta, Spriggs, McCray and Lucas Patrick, who started at left guard for Lane Taylor (foot), held their own but they did allow four sacks, with Rodgers scrambling three other times for 44 yards. Bulaga did not practice Wednesday, while Taylor did so on a limited basis.
“We’ve got to keep believing in those guys,” Rodgers said. “I thought Lucas, Jason and Justin played really well last week. And we need another good effort out of them this week.”
Rodgers didn’t want to relive his knee injury from the opener, and while it was suggested to him at one point during his session with reporters that the injury is behind him, Rodgers pointed out that while wearing a brace is behind him, there’s still some lingering issues with the knee. “The brace is behind me, thankfully. Which, it probably is behind me somewhere,” Rodgers said, pointing to his locker. Asked if he could finally say what the injury exactly was, Rodgers replied, “I’ll get into that maybe after the season. But it’s been something that’s bothered me for the majority of the season. It’s been different on Mondays and Tuesdays. (That’s my) time in here usually working out and talking to the coaching staff. It’s been a lot more rehab and preventative stuff (instead).” …
Cornerback Bashaud Breeland, who returned an interception for a touchdown against Atlanta, did not practice Wednesday. Although he was listed on the injury report with the groin injury he’s been battling for more than a month, his absence was not injury related, according to the report. … Defensive tackle Kenny Clark (elbow) did not practice after leaving last week’s game, but there doesn’t seem to be major concern about his availability. Clark went back into the game after his elbow injury against the Falcons. … Tight end Jimmy Graham continued his Wednesday resting regimen for his knee and did not practice.