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Notebook: Still Some Unknowns For Defense

With linebackers Nick Barnett and Brandon Chillar ruled out because of injuries, Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk will be the Packers’ every-down inside linebackers on Sunday at Washington, but questions remain at two other starting spots on defense.


Rookie Frank Zombo has started at the right outside linebacker spot the past two games with second-year man Brad Jones inactive at Chicago in Week 3 and still not 100 percent last week against Detroit due to a knee injury. Jones practiced fully all week, so the Packers could elect to go with either one opposite Clay Matthews on Sunday.

At strong safety, rookie Morgan Burnett was placed on season-ending injured reserve on Thursday after tearing his ACL last Sunday against Detroit, so the starting options there are Charlie Peprah, Derrick Martin and Jarrett Bush.

Martin took over with the No. 1 defense in the first half after Burnett left the game, while Peprah was inactive for the game due to a quad injury. Bush served as the nickel cornerback with rookie Sam Shields sidelined due to a calf injury, and Shields is out again this week.

All the injuries provided for a taxing week of preparation for Head Coach Mike McCarthy and his defensive staff, with the trickle-down effect being felt by the special-teams units as well with key contributors like Bishop and possibly Peprah moving up into starting roles.

"It's been a real challenge for the defensive staff, when you try to build your packages on Monday night and Tuesday and then you probably want to times that by five for the special teams," McCarthy said. "That's really the real challenge. (Special teams coordinator) Shawn Slocum is the one who's affected most by these injuries.

"But once again, no excuses. Everybody goes through it. We just have had a lot come on us so fast. I think the coaches have done a good job of trying to train the players in the different areas of game-planning, trying to cover ourselves and still … I feel very confident about the game plan going into Washington. I thought our practices were productive. We've had to cut them back short, our numbers are down. But I think overall, walking off the field today, I thought it was a quality week of work."

Jones started the first two games on the right side, but was limited to just 16 snaps last Sunday in his first game back compared to 38 for Zombo and 28 for veteran Brady Poppinga. With Maurice Simpkins, signed to the active roster from the practice squad on Wednesday, as the only backup at inside linebacker, defensive coordinator Dom Capers said Friday that Poppinga will also serve as the No. 1 backup on the inside if anything were to happen to Bishop or Hawk.

"Brad is healthier than he was a week ago," Capers said. "Brad is at a point where he has got to go back in there and step up a little bit. You test guys in terms of their ability to play a couple of positions because now all of a sudden with one injury guys have to get ready play both inside and outside linebacker."

Peprah practiced fully for the third straight day, reporting no soreness following Thursday's padded work. His lone NFL start came with Green Bay almost two years ago to the day (Oct. 5, 2008, vs. Atlanta), but with two offseasons in Capers' scheme under his belt, the fifth-year man is more ready to step in than he was when he last got the call.

"I thought Charlie came back (after spending the second half of last season with Atlanta) and really just took full advantage of his opportunity," McCarthy said. "He had a really good command of the defense, particularly from a communication standpoint.

"Playing safety back there, you are pretty much like a quarterback on offense, and that's been a strength of Charlie's since he came back to our football team. That was really a big part of why he made our football team. He's been a good special teams player for us in the past, and we've just got to get him healthy."

Regardless of who winds up starting on Sunday, the players potentially in those spots echoed the same sentiment. Whoever is in the game needs to find a way to handle their responsibilities so that there is no drop-off for the defense.

"We always tell the guys if they are sitting in that room, they have got to be accountable for their jobs and they've got to be ready to step in," Capers said. "Injuries are such a part of this game that you can't let it slow you down.

"We had them last year in one game where we lost Aaron Kampman and Al Harris (in Week 11), and Brad Jones had to step up and you saw him step up the rest of the way. It does give the new guys an opportunity to show what they can do and they've got to pick their game up and go out and perform their role, whatever we ask them to do."

Back at itWide receiver Jordy Nelson, who fumbled twice on kickoff returns last Sunday against Detroit, will get a chance to bounce back at Washington on Sunday.

McCarthy said Nelson and cornerback Pat Lee will handle kickoff-return responsibilities, with Nelson getting the nod as the No. 1 man.

Nelson said he took a few extra reps in the team's daily ball-security work in practice, but is viewing the performance as a "hiccup" and looking to move on.

"Obviously you think about it, but you can't because there are multiple other things you need to be thinking about," Nelson said. "If that is in your head, then you're not thinking about everything else that you should be."

Lee has never returned a kickoff in eight regular-season games played, but he had five returns for 146 yards (29.2 avg.) as a rookie during the 2008 preseason. He also posted a 41-yard return in his lone attempt during the '09 preseason, but sustained a season-ending knee injury on the play.

Prior to his struggles on Sunday, Nelson had provided a spark in the return game, posting a 26.2 average on 12 attempts in the first three contests, which was tied for No. 8 in the league and included three returns of 40-plus yards.

"Hopefully what we have done in the past has kind of set a foundation for what we can do," Nelson said. "Continue forward and just eliminate the fumbles and we'll be in good shape.

"We have things to build on. I think that is maybe one reason why I am still back there. The guys up front have been doing a great job. I just need to continue to do what I was doing and not put the ball on the ground and keep putting our offense in good situations."

Some positive newsChillar, who injured his shoulder in Week 3 at Chicago and will miss his second straight game this week, received some good news from the doctor.

Chillar visited the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City on Thursday, and further testing revealed only a sprained shoulder, not a season-ending injury that had originally been feared.

"The way it felt, it was a little scary, but I have been improving," Chillar said. "It's encouraging."

Chillar didn't provide a timetable for when he thought he might return to action, saying only that he was taking it "day-to-day."

Injury/participation updateBarnett, Chillar, Shields (calf) and fullback Quinn Johnson (glute) were ruled out for Sunday's game.

Tackle Mark Tauscher (shoulder) did not participate in practice for the third straight day and is doubtful.

Peprah, Martin (ankle), tackle Chad Clifton (knee), safety Nick Collins (knee), defensive end Cullen Jenkins (hand) and cornerback Charles Woodson (toe) are all probable.

For Washington, running back Clinton Portis is out.

Safety Chris Horton (ankle), LaRon Landry (wrist), guard Kory Lichtensteiger (knee), quarterback Donovan McNabb (thigh) and tackle Trent Williams (toe) are all questionable for Sunday.

Defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth (not injury related) did not participate in practice on Friday.

Additional coverage – Oct. 8

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