The Packers are trying to shore up the interior of their offensive line, and Head Coach Mike McCarthy said this week he's rotating players at the guard spots to try to find the best combination.
The coaching staff was not happy with the guard play in last week's win over Kansas City, particularly with the amount of pressure allowed up the middle in the passing game.
Second-year pros Daryn Colledge, Tony Moll and Jason Spitz all played at guard in that game, while third-year man Junius Coston missed his third straight game with an ankle injury.
In practice on Wednesday, the Packers worked primarily three different guard combinations - Colledge on the left side and Coston on the right, Colledge left and Spitz right, and Coston right and Spitz left. Moll is back on the injury report this week with a neck problem and is limited in practice, while rookie Allen Barbre is also in the mix but not taking as many snaps as the other three.
"It's not ideal," McCarthy said of having to spread the snaps around amongst so many players in practice. "You'd like to think that you're beyond that at this point in the season but that's where we are. The productivity and performance level of that position needs to improve. We're going to give the three guys an opportunity and see where we are at the end of the week."
Continuity on the interior of the offensive line has been hard to come by this season, with injuries being one factor. During the season opener, Spitz re-aggravated a strained calf muscle, so Coston took over at right guard and then became the full-time starter, only to go down with the ankle injury during practice prior to the Oct. 14 Washington game.
Spitz would have been the natural replacement at right guard, but he was needed to start three straight games at center in place of Scott Wells, who is now recovered from a fractured orbital bone and a subsequent illness and is not among the 17 players listed on this week's injury report.
That threw Moll into the starting lineup for the past three games before Wells was re-inserted at center in the second quarter last Sunday and Spitz moved to right guard.
Coston is still on the injury report and was listed as a limited participant in practice, and McCarthy said Thursday's full-pads practice would be a key test for him. But whether injuries are still a factor or not, McCarthy would like the revolving door to stop spinning.
"We're going to find the right combination," he said.
Rouse prepared, ready to go
Rookie safety Aaron Rouse is set to make his first NFL start on Sunday in place of the injured Nick Collins (knee), and the third-round draft choice out of Virginia Tech is taking a very businesslike approach to the work week, judging by how he directly and calmly answered questions from the media at his locker after practice.
"I think I'm more focused than I am excited," Rouse said. "I'm focused and ready to go out there and have fun, and I think my excitement will show on Sunday when I get out there and get a chance to knock some guys around and make plays."
Despite this being the ninth game of the season, Rouse will be playing in just his sixth contest. A hamstring injury sustained during the final week of training camp forced Rouse to miss the final preseason contest and left him inactive for the first three regular season games.
Rouse admitted it was difficult missing valuable practice time as a rookie because of the injury, but he said he put in extra time off the field to keep from falling behind at all. In the past five games, Rouse has played on special teams and as an injury substitute at both safety spots.
"You want to make sure when you come back you're back on the same page, if not a little bit further along than when you left," he said. "You study film more, you study your playbook more because you're not out there getting the physical reps, but you always get the mental reps.
"My main focus was to stay in my playbook and make sure I knew what was going on each and every day so when a time came like this, I was ready."
Rouse is listed on the injury report with a shoulder injury and he was a limited participant in practice, but he said it's not anything that would keep him from playing on Sunday.
Of the 17 players on Green Bay's injury report, three have been ruled out for this week - cornerback Will Blackmon (foot), tight end Bubba Franks (knee) and Collins.
Three others did not participate in practice - offensive tackle Chad Clifton (knee), defensive tackle Justin Harrell (ankle) and linebacker Tracy White (ankle). Regarding Clifton, McCarthy said he was just giving the veteran lineman some normal rest time.
The other 11 players were all limited participants in practice. They are Coston, Moll, Rouse, defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila (illness), running back Ryan Grant (concussion), cornerbacks Al Harris (back) and Charles Woodson (foot), receiver Ruvell Martin (back), defensive tackles Ryan Pickett (knee) and Corey Williams (knee), and linebacker Brady Poppinga (shoulder).
McCarthy said Grant was close to passing all his post-concussion tests, and the team physicians feel he'll be fine for Sunday's game.
Pro Football Weekly's midseason all-pro team includes two Packers - Clifton at offensive tackle and McCarthy as the league's top coach.
Clifton has done an admirable job against some of the league's top pass rushers this season, including Philadelphia's Trent Cole, New York's Osi Umenyiora, San Diego's Shawne Merriman, Chicago's Mark Anderson, Washington's Andre Carter, Denver's Elvis Dumervil and Kansas City's Jared Allen.
Those players each have at least 4 1/2 sacks this season and have combined for 48 1/2 as a group. But a total of just two of those sacks (1 1/2 by Cole, 1/2 by Allen) have come against the Packers.
McCarthy, meanwhile, has guided his team to 11 wins in its last 12 games after starting 4-8 in 2006. The Packers have won six straight on the road and are 9-3 overall away from home under McCarthy.
McCarthy was asked if he feels one of his strengths is the ability to balance celebrating the team's accomplishments while still focusing on the improvement needed, something he considers his duty and a necessity to succeed.
"It's one of the key responsibilities of a head coach," he said. "The coach has to supply the vision and the plan. To have a vision of what you want to accomplish, you have to have a vision of what you want your football team to look like. I've echoed that since the first day I stood in front of the football team. When it looks the way it needs to look, then I'll congratulate them and push them to keep it that way. We're not there yet. I won't stop until we get there."