McCarthy insisted during the week that the way practice had played out before the 49ers game – Burnett practiced on Wednesday and Thursday before surprising the medical staff on Friday when he came in ailing – factored into McMillian’s and Jennings’ performances because they didn’t get enough snaps during the week. That was rectified this week, as the coaches ran all three players – plus rookie Chris Banjo – through the starting defense.
“Guys are playing different positions, particularly when we go dime. Jerron’s supposed to be the guy playing the dime but now he’s had to get back and play a safety position in that package, where he doesn’t done that,” safeties coach Darren Perry explained. “So, you’re kind of shuffling guys around they’re playing new positions. That was probably the biggest adjustment with Morgan being out, just having to make that change.
“Obviously, you want your best players out there but we don’t make excuses. We were in positions but we just didn’t make the plays. That was the bottom line. It wasn’t anything special that they did. We didn’t make any plays and we certainly allowed for some big-play opportunities through some missed tackles that we can easily correct. From that standpoint, there’s really no need to hit the panic button. It’s a matter of us going out there and executing our responsibility and not doing much and not doing more than what our job requirement asks us to do.”
Special importance: The Packers started a pair of post-kickoff possessions inside their own 10-yard line last week, but only one was the fault of returner Jeremy Ross, and that’s part of the reason why special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum is sticking with Ross on kickoff returns.
“You know, you can always do better. I felt like I could do a better job just overall on special teams, all aspects of the game. Not just the return,” Ross said this week. “(I) felt like I could have played a lot better.”
Ross was indecisive on the first return, and a penalty added to the mistake. On the second return, after the 49ers reclaimed the lead at 31-28, Ross was victimized by atrocious blocking on the return unit, which put the offense in a hole at its own 9-yard line.
“I thought our production in the return game was nowhere (close) to where it needed to be in the kickoff return game. We had opportunities and we didn’t get it done. Our blocking was poor,” Slocum said. “We gave our offense two series starting inside the 10-yard line. That’s totally unacceptable. Our punt return, we had an explosive return with Randall and Jeremy had a solid return and could’ve broken it even longer.”
For that reason, Ross will get the call again on kickoffs and he and Cobb will split punt returns.
“I think, as I told you guys all along, where we are with Randall and Jeremy with punt return, I think we’re in a good spot. Micah Hyde is also a good catcher. Right now we’re not using him there but he’s ready to go if we need him,” Slocum said. “From a kickoff return standpoint, I just foresee Jeremy continuing to do it. I thought in the game the other day that he made one poor response, actually, not necessarily decision. He hesitated prior to coming out, he shouldn’t have done that. The last kickoff, he came out and the spacing was right and he was right. We did a poor job blocking for him.”
Line items: With Sitton returning to practice, the Packers’ offensive line will likely be intact. But if the Pro Bowl left guard’s back seizes up on him again and he’s a no-go for the game, his appearance on the injury report raised a worthwhile question: What exactly would the Packers do with their line if Sitton sat?
Marshall Newhouse is the answer.
Newhouse started 28 games over the past two seasons (including playoffs) at left tackle – Packers’ record in those games: 22-6 – but is now the offensive line’s sixth man. When Bryan Bulaga suffered a season-ending knee injury during the Aug. 3 Family Night Scrimmage, it was rookie fourth-round pick David Bakhtiari, and not Newhouse, who got the call from coach Mike McCarthy.
Newhouse continued to compete for the starting right tackle job, which he then ended up losing to Don Barclay. McCarthy has told Newhouse that he’s a starter in his book, if that’s any consolation. And if Sitton can’t play, Newhouse will be first off the bench, McCarthy said.
“Obviously, Marshall Newhouse will play. How that works out, that’s what practice is for and that’s what the week is for,” McCarthy said at midweek.
Presumably, Newhouse would come in at right tackle, since he hasn’t had any guard reps in practice since 2011. Barclay would then move to guard. But would he shift to right guard – since he spent all summer on the right side – and thus shift T.J. Lang from right guard back to the left guard spot he used to play before the offseason shuffle? Or would Barclay go to left guard, allowing Lang to stay put?
Offensive line coach James Campen wasn’t willing to divulge such contingencies on Thursday after practice, but it sounds like Barclay would move to left guard.
“You know, you want to play your best guys all the time, and the ones that you think are the most ready,” Campen said. “I understand your question is like, ‘Why don’t you guys just take maybe Greg (Van Roten) or Lane (Taylor) and put them in there?’ You know you have to look at things like experience. We did spend a lot of time moving Donny tackle-guard-center in camp, so I don’t think that’s an issue. Marshall’s played both sides. T.J. and Marshall, you have to look at it that way too, they’ve played a whole two years on the left side together, now on the right, so in this instance, I don’t think it’s an issue. But I can see your point.”
There is no such thing as a must-win in Week 2, no matter how much longer the odds are for 0-2 teams to make the playoffs as compared to 1-1 teams. Nevertheless, digging out of an 0-2 hole with a trip to Cincinnati up next would be daunting. The Packers are an impressive 26-2 at Lambeau Field in regular-season play since Week 10 of the 2009 season, and that .929 winning percentage is tops in the NFL over that span. Expect them to be 1-1 and 27-2 by 3 o’clock or so. Packers 28, Redskins 17. (Season record: 1-0)
– Jason Wilde