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Oren Burks 'excited' to return to Packers' practice field

Second-year linebacker has been sidelined with chest injury since preseason opener

LB Oren Burks
LB Oren Burks

GREEN BAY – As the Packers returned from their extended weekend, the team welcomed linebacker Oren Burks back to the practice field on Monday.

Burks has been out since suffering a pectoral injury during the Packers' preseason opener against the Houston Texans on Aug. 8.

While the injury didn't require surgery, the second-year linebacker has had to stay patient while rehabbing and rebuilding the strength back up in his chest muscle.

Burks didn't offer a timeline for a return to the field but his participation during Monday's practice was a good first step.

"It was huge," said Burks after Monday's non-padded practice. "Just kind of mentally being away from the team a little bit, it was cool to get back out there with the guys. In terms of prognosis, I don't really know exactly when I'll be 100 percent but I'm taking it one day at a time and trying to get better."

While it takes practice reps to get back into football shape, Burks has been able to run throughout the injury. He wore a shoulder harness Monday and confirmed he'll likely play with it once he is cleared.

The harness reduces some range of motion, but the 6-foot-3, 233-pound linebacker also has past experience using one after sustaining an early-season shoulder injury during his rookie year in 2018.

"I have to be able to do what I do as a linebacker. That's a lot of chopping and shedding," Burks said. "If I was a receiver or something, I'd probably be good to go but it's just the world we live in. It's moving big human beings. It's a little bit different."

A third-round pick out of Vanderbilt last year, Burks played mostly on special teams as a rookie after being sidelined the first four games of the regular season with the shoulder.

He started the regular-season finale against Detroit and was expected to play a big role in Mike Pettine's defense after taking all the inside linebacker reps next to Blake Martinez during the offseason program.

Like last season, Burks' early absence created a domino effect at the position. Green Bay traded for former New York Giants linebacker B.J. Goodson after final cuts and successfully inserted Raven Greene as a box safety until he suffered an ankle injury against Minnesota that landed him on injured reserve.

The Packers have occasionally plugged in Goodson here and there but played most of the first month of the season with only Martinez at inside linebacker. Burks' return would not only give Green Bay more depth inside, but also allow the defense to get back to more traditional options in the base and nickel packages.

"Just having another 'backer that understands run fits a little bit better, I feel that will help us out a lot," Burks said. "These guys have been playing their butts off the last couple of weeks, so we've just got to keep it going."

The Packers will travel to face the Dallas Cowboys and All-Pro running back Ezekiel Elliott this Sunday. Whether Burks will suit up or not, there's an undeniable benefit for the second-year linebacker to be re-inserted into the practice rotation.

As he works to regain the strength and power in his upper body, Burks' main objective is to regain his familiarity with the defense and his place in it.

"I was feeling really confident in the defense going into camp and throughout OTAs and everything," Burks said. "Just know my role and play fast. Just have to get back to that now. It's a process but I'm excited for it."