As expected, the Green Bay Packers returned to the practice field on Monday a much healthier team than the one that last played a game on Oct. 19 against Indianapolis.
Cornerback Al Harris, receiver James Jones, safety Atari Bigby and defensive end Michael Montgomery were all back at practice after missing significant time due to injuries.
"I thought this was a very good time for a bye week for us," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "Because we needed to get healthy, and it looks like we've achieved that on most fronts.
"Being here throughout the weekend, I thought the guys, every time I came in they were in here getting treatment and so forth. I thought Pepper Burruss and his staff did a great job getting those guys the extra time in the training room. They took full advantage of it."
McCarthy characterized Harris (spleen) and Jones (knee) as back on a trial basis, and their bodies' response to Monday's workout would determine their availability the rest of this week.
Jones said after practice Monday that his knee felt "good" when running and planting, and that he didn't have any pain coming out of his breaks. If Jones is able to play Sunday it would be only the second time this year that the Packers have had all five wide receivers active for a game.
"To have five receivers healthy is definitely going to help us, so we'll see how it goes," Jones said. "Hopefully we can open up that five-wide package and make it kind of tough on some DBs around here."
McCarthy said that if Harris is able to play at Tennessee, his week of practice will be the determining factor in whether he starts or plays in a backup role.
"It's important, number one, to get Al back on the practice field, just to see where he is, and get him back to football shape, and there's no substitute for that," McCarthy said. "Every player goes through it. You can condition with the best of them, and you still have to get out there and tug and pull and do the things that are required to get you in football shape.
"We'll answer that question at the end of the week. It's an option, though. Hey, it would be great to have Al out there starting, but I'm only going to put him out there when he's ready."
Bigby, who hasn't played since Week 2 because of a hamstring injury, said he was a full participant in Monday's practice. As is the case with Harris, it is unknown whether he would start Sunday if he is active.
"As far as I know, when they call my name and when I go out there and when I get on the field, I'm the starter," Bigby said. "Whether they are going to make me the starter or the backup or whatever, that's out of my hands."
Another player who could return to the field is defensive tackle Justin Harrell, who has been on the physically unable to perform list all season following two offseason back surgeries. The team has until next week to either activate Harrell or place him on the PUP list for the remainder of the season.
Harrell, a Tennessee native, said he is hopeful he will be active Sunday to provide some depth at defensive tackle when the Packers face one of the top rushing teams in the league.
"I'm just trying to work myself back into it," Harrell said. "The speed of the game is so much faster from practice to the game. Just being out there practicing now, it is still a little faster. I'm just trying to get that down and just get my reaction time down."
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers (right shoulder) was limited to just the jog-through portion of practice on Monday, and McCarthy said he was hoping to have Rodgers be able to practice twice this week, but the medical staff would make the final call there.
Also, cornerback Charles Woodson (foot) is still being held out of practice. Whether he returns to practice later this week remains to be seen, but Woodson hasn't missed a game all season.
Twice as nice
It's rare when a team gets to watch the live television broadcast of the game involving their very next opponent, but that's the case this week with Sunday's foe, Tennessee, playing on Monday Night Football in Nashville.
The Titans, who will try to remain the NFL's lone unbeaten at 6-0, take on the Indianapolis Colts, coincidentally the Packers' most recent opponent.
McCarthy said he planned to watch the game live on television and then watch it again when the coaches' videotape arrives sometime Tuesday afternoon.
"I really get a lot out of watching a game on TV," McCarthy said. "There's things on TV you can't really see on the coaches' tape, and vice versa."
Part of McCarthy's annual bye week self-scouting this past week included looking at the team's injury situation to see if anything more can be done proactively to reduce injury risk, particularly with hamstring injuries, which have been the malady of '08 for the Packers.
McCarthy said there were no major discoveries that pointed to an obvious fix, but the team is going to extend its stretching period for practice from six minutes to 10 minutes, and warm-ups would be a little more extensive. Players will continue to be reminded of the need for properly hydrating and caring for their bodies, both before and after workouts.
"It's continuing education really, just to make sure that we're getting our core temperature up, keeping it up, staying stretched," McCarthy said. "Our problems really aren't at practice; all of our injuries have come in games. Different players playing different reps, different segments of the game, special teams responsibilities increasing, decreasing, all those types of things."
Defensive end Jason Hunter (hamstring) and linebacker Danny Lansanah (hamstring) were both held out of practice Monday and were expected to test their injuries again on Tuesday for possible participation in practice on Wednesday.
Defensive tackle Johnny Jolly was excused from practice for a personal matter.