GREEN BAY – The Packers' offense took another hit on Thursday with Head Coach Matt LaFleur confirming receiver Randall Cobb would be "out for a while" because of the core muscle injury he sustained before the team's Week 13 bye.
It occurred on Cobb's 7-yard touchdown catch before halftime in the Packers' eventual 36-28 win over the Los Angeles Rams. Prior to that, Cobb was having perhaps his best game of the season with four receptions for 95 yards and the TD.
"He had a pretty significant injury," said LaFleur before practice Thursday. "That's unfortunate because I thought he has done such an amazing job when given the opportunity."
Cobb's second stint with the Packers has been a productive one, as the former Pro Bowler quickly picked up the offense and rebuilt his rapport with longtime quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Since returning after a July trade with Houston, Cobb is third on the team in receptions (28), second in receiving yards (375 yards) and tied with All-Pro receiver Davante Adams for the team lead in touchdown catches (five).
On top of the statistical contributions, Cobb's presence in the locker room has been widely praised by veterans and rookies alike. He's considered a big brother to rookie third-round pick Amari Rodgers and a mentor to Adams and the rest of the room.
"Being around Aaron for going on the third year, and just the first two years how highly he spoke of (Cobb), just as a human being, and his presence walking in the building really blew my mind," said offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, who arrived in Green Bay after Cobb left in free agency prior to the 2019 season.
"It was just a bonus to have that connection come back and be a leader in that room and give us a lot. Those guys are going to have to step up and they already have. They've already shown it. I think they've gotten better just having Randall in the room."
As difficult as it is to lose Cobb, it's not the first time the Packers have been down a receiver or two this season. In fact, Cobb had been the only wideout who'd played in each of Green Bay's first 12 games.
Softening the blow is the fact Green Bay's receiving corps is getting healthier. Marquez Valdes-Scantling (hamstring), Allen Lazard (shoulder) and Equanimeous St. Brown (ankle) have all been removed from the injury report in recent weeks, while Malik Taylor (abdomen) was a full participant Thursday after missing the previous two games.
Adams has been limited in practice this week due to a hamstring, but there's been no indication it'll jeopardize his availability for Sunday night's matchup with the Chicago Bears.
"Every one of us has been down at some point and we've all had to step up and play," Valdes-Scantling said. "It's not a difference. I missed some time, Allen has missed some time, Davante has missed time, EQ has missed time. So everybody that's playing right now has missed time and we've been pretty good at it. Next-man-up mentality, and that's how we approach it."
The key for the offense down the stretch could be a healthy Valdes-Scantling, who appears to have found his stride after missing five games with the hamstring he tweaked in Week 3 against San Francisco.
On his 75-yard touchdown against Minnesota in Week 11, Valdes-Scantling clocked the fastest speed of any NFL player in a game this season (22.09 miles per hour, according to NextGenStats).
The fourth-year receiver added four more catches for 50 yards in the win over the Rams, including a 28-yard completion that converted a key second-and-14 situation to start the second half.
"He has rare speed, so I think that's something from a defensive perspective you've got to account for," LaFleur said. "You saw it a couple of weeks ago in the Viking game, just his big-play ability. So, that's a guy we want to have on the field as much as we can."
Cobb's absence undoubtedly will have a trickle-down effect, particularly on third downs, but the Packers have several directions they could go with how they handle the vacancy Cobb's injury creates in the slot.
Adams, Valdes-Scantling and Lazard all possess the versatility to move inside, while Amari Rodgers and St. Brown also have experience in the slot.
It's actually a spot St. Brown has been in before, as the fourth-year receiver previously filled in for an injured Cobb during his rookie season in 2018. St. Brown has played in just 21 regular-season games over the past three seasons but caught three passes for 50 yards in the two games before the bye week.
Drafted in back-to-back rounds in 2018, Valdes-Scantling and St. Brown have developed a close friendship during their four seasons in Green Bay. Watching St. Brown battle back from injuries after not making this year's initial 53-man roster out of training camp has been special for Valdes-Scantling to watch.
If St. Brown is called upon in the weeks ahead, Valdes-Scantling is confident his 2018 draft classmate can get the job done.
"That's my guy, man," Valdes-Scantling said. "Obviously, he had missed some time last year (and) with his injury the year before, having to sit out the whole year pretty much because of the ankle. Just seeing him bounce back and go out there and produce has been fun."