Yet again, Mike McCarthy made it clear that the Green Bay Packers wouldn’t be wallowing in self-pity. In fact, the Packers coach seemed more determined than ever to make sure more injury misfortune didn’t faze his team.
So even as the Packers learned that wide receiver Jordy Nelson would miss the rest of training camp after undergoing a procedure on his knee Sunday, and even though left tackle Bryan Bulaga is expected to miss the season – despite his hope to the contrary – with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee, McCarthy wasn’t in woe-is-me mode Tuesday.
“These type of injuries, they’re part of the game. The game of football, especially pro football, stops for nobody,” McCarthy said. “You keep playing and if you ever stop and blink, you’re two steps behind your opponent.”
How Bulaga’s injury, which occurred during the team’s annual Family Night Scrimmage on Saturday at Lambeau Field, happened is a mystery to just about everyone involved. McCarthy said Bulaga, who played roughly 30 plays in the scrimmage, was injured on the seventh play, but no one seemed certain of just how he hurt himself.
“He doesn’t even look like he’s injured,” McCarthy said after meeting with Bulaga Tuesday. “It was one of those plays that you really don’t understand and didn’t look like a very significant injury.”
General manager Ted Thompson was at field level when the injury happened and saw Bulaga come out of the pile after a play “kicking his leg” as if it was bothering him.
“Then (he) goes back to the huddle and plays great the rest of the night, which is the reason I still have hope,” Thompson said.
Bulaga does, too. Although he wasn’t in the locker room during the media availability period, Bulaga reportedly has sought a second opinion from renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews in hopes of somehow playing through the injury.
Rookie fourth-round pick David Bakhtiari worked at Bulaga’s left tackles spot in practice Tuesday and would start there in Friday night’s preseason opener against Arizona.
“We’re still waiting on a medical opinion that hasn’t come in yet. Bryan is still hopeful to potentially give it a go,” McCarthy said. “We clearly understand all the options with the initial medical opinion. (But) nothing’s been finalized.”
Said Thompson: “There’s nothing wrong with hoping for a miracle. … Nobody’s trying to keep this secret. There’s a process that we’re trying to go through. Until we get all the answers and I’s dotted and that sort of thing, we’re just going to hope. Hope’s a good thing, you know?”
Asked if he really thinks Bulaga could play through a torn ACL, McCarthy replied in part, “Everybody’s talking through, as we always do, what’s in the best interest of the player. Bryan fully understands what it would take for him to play this year. He’s looking at all his options.”
Packers Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton, who played next to Bulaga on the right side from 2010 through 2012 before the team switched up their offensive line and moved both men to the left side this offseason, said he thinks it would be a mistake for Bulaga to try to play with the injury.
“If he does try to go? I would think he’s stupid,” Sitton said. “He’s got a career to worry about. It’s not just about this year when you have something like that, so it would be dumb. But to go however many plays he went with it, whatever it is, he’s a tough son of a bitch.”
Having suffered a hip injury on Nov. 4 that ended his third NFL season, Bulaga had been ultra-committed during the offseason as he shifted from right tackle to left tackle.
“I feel terrible what happened to Bryan and no one knows how hard he’s prepared coming off of last year’s injury,” McCarthy said. “I can (count) on maybe one hand how many days he has left Lambeau Field. He worked out exclusively here in the offseason throughout the summer. So, to see him pour that much into it and able to see it, you feel bad for the person.”
News of Nelson’s surgery, meanwhile, came as a surprise after he missed his first practice of camp on Friday night.
McCarthy did not divulge specifics of Nelson’s injury, other than to say that the doctors hope he’ll be ready for the Sept. 8 opener at San Francisco. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Nelson’s surgery was to correct a nerve issue in Nelson’s knee that has bothered him since college and flared up at beginning of camp. Schefter reported that doctors expect Nelson to be ready in 4-6 weeks. The Packers play the 49ers at Candlestick Park in 33 days.
“Fortunately with Jordy, his particular thing that we had (to) fix is something that we have some experience with with some other guys here,” Thompson said. “So, we think we can predict about the way it’ll go. But you never know.”
In addition to Nelson and Bulaga, wide receiver/returner Randall Cobb, the team’s leading receiver last year, dropped out of practice Tuesday with a biceps injury. No. 1 cornerback Tramon Williams has been sidelined for more than a week with a bone bruise in his knee, and cornerback Casey Hayward has yet to practice because of a hamstring injury. DuJuan Harris, the team’s starting running back at the end of last season, has yet to practice because of a knee injury. In all, 16 players missed practice Tuesday, including wide receiver Sederrick Cunningham, who was placed on injured reserve to make room on the roster for quarterback Vince Young.
Certainly the Packers have experience in overcoming such injuries. According to research done by Dallas Morning News columnist Rick Gosselin, the Packers led the league two of the past three years in injuries. In 2010, the Packers lost a league-high 91 games from their preferred starters due to injuries – and still won Super Bowl XLV. Last year, they again led the league with 83 games lost by starters to injuries, and reached the NFC Divisional Playoff round, where they lost to the San Francisco 49ers – the team which, coincidentally, lost the fewest games to injury.
“Injuries are not explainable,” Thompson said. “They just happen.”
They’ve happened again this year to the Packers despite an all-out commitment to reducing them. Frustrated by the injury numbers, McCarthy set out during the offseason to reduce the number of what his medical staff determined were “preventable” injuries, meaning primarily muscle strains and over-exertion injuries. To that end, McCarthy revamped the offseason workout program, has players wearing GPS monitors to track their movements, heart rate and exertion levels, implemented three “TV timeouts” during each practice to give players a 2-minute break, and allowed players to seek outside and sometimes non-traditional remedies for their ailments.
“Injury prevention, everybody talks about it and everybody does everything you can to try to decrease it,” McCarthy said. “As far as where we are today in training camp compared to years in the past, the health of our football team is better. To me, that tells me the adjustments, some of the changes (are) working."
It just doesn’t seem like it.