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Packers getting healthy again at safety

Darnell Savage, Dallin Leavitt returned to practice Sunday

S Darnell Savage
S Darnell Savage

GREEN BAY – After a few close calls this past month, the Packers are getting healthier on the back end.

Starting safety Darnell Savage and fourth-year veteran Dallin Leavitt both rejoined their teammates during Sunday's padded practice inside the Don Hutson Center.

It was Leavitt's first on-field work since injuring his shoulder in a preseason game against San Francisco on Aug. 12, and Savage's first appearance since suffering a hamstring injury during Family Night on Aug 5.

Savage has started all 46 games he's appeared in for the Packers since being drafted in the first round back in 2019, recording 199 tackles with 28 passes defensed and eight interceptions.

As difficult as it was to shut things down for three weeks, the 25-year-old safety understood the bigger picture – the Packers' regular-season opener in Minnesota on Sept. 11.

"The hardest thing is just being patient," Savage said. "I want to be out there with my brothers. It's really difficult, but at the same time, I gotta be smart for them, too. They did a good job of staying in my ear and told me it's bigger than just right now. I just try to stay the course and get better every day."

Leavitt's injury was particularly scary, as he came up clutching his shoulder after a collision with 49ers receiver Ray-Ray McCloud.

Leavitt forced a fumble on the play that was recovered by Packers linebacker Krys Barnes, but the 5-foot-10, 195-pound safety admitted on Sunday that it was the worst "pure pain" he'd ever experienced.

Head Coach Matt LaFleur delivered an ominous update the following day when informing the Green Bay media corps that Leavitt would be out "for a while." So, it came as a minor surprise to see the safety back on the practice field in a little over two weeks.

"I think that most people probably felt that way in the building, as well, that (I) was going to be out for a while," said Leavitt, who wore a shoulder harness during practice. "I just can't live like that, you know what I mean? I'm not OK with being out, so I'm going to do everything I can to get back."

The Packers signed Leavitt days before training camp because of not only his experience on defense but also the important role he played on coordinator Rich Bisaccia's special teams the past four years with the Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders.

The 5-foot-10, 195-pound safety led the Raiders in both special-teams snaps (348/73.0%) and coverage tackles (12) in 2021. He's been a core member of the Packers' units, including as the personal protector on punt coverage. Starting safety Adrian Amos had been filling in during Leavitt's absence.

Even when Leavitt wasn't on the practice field the past two weeks, the veteran has continued to lead in the meeting room while Bisaccia installs his scheme.

"He'll give us his two cents and piggyback off Coach sometimes, and you know it's a trusted word," said linebacker Tipa Galeai of Leavitt. "He's talking through experience. He knows how Rich wants his special teams. It helps me a lot. He's given me a lot of pointers."

The one silver lining to the injuries to Savage and Leavitt was they created opportunity for many of the young defensive backs to shine in the preseason.

First-year safety Shawn Davis finished with five tackles (one for a loss) and a fumble recovery, while former USFL standout Micah Abernathy came out of nowhere to finish the summer as Green Bay's third-leading tackler.

"They did a great job," Savage said. "That's something I feel like we've been talking about that in our room for so long now – just the next-guy-up mentality. It trickles throughout. Those guys, they came in and attacked the day perfect."

Sunday was just one practice, but Savage believes it was a positive first step towards lining up alongside Amos against the Vikings in 13 days. After pretty much getting through August unscathed on defense, the Packers are aiming high in 2022.

"I love the pace we're at right now," Savage said. "Just keep communicating, being on the same page and just growing closer and closer. I feel like that's the biggest thing for us. I feel like we have a very special locker room."

More injury updates: While offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins sat out with a non-knee-related matter, left tackle David Bakhtiari returned to practice during individual periods.

Tight ends Nate Becker and Alizé Mack, defensive lineman Akial Byers, and safety Innis Gaines attended practice but did not participate.