Packers rolling with the punches at tackle

Injuries have tested "next man up" mentality this season


GREEN BAY – If a short week didn't already present the Packers with enough challenges, their banged-up offensive line was dealt another blow Tuesday when Kyle Murphy was placed on injured reserve with a foot injury.

Murphy, a sixth-round pick out of Stanford a year ago, started in the opener against Seattle in place of Bryan Bulaga (ankle) at right tackle before sliding to left tackle the past two weeks to replace David Bakhtiari (hamstring).

Bulaga returned after a two-game absence in Sunday's 27-24 overtime win over Cincinnati, but exited in the fourth quarter and didn't return. The Packers finished the game with Murphy and first-year offensive lineman Justin McCray at tackle for the second week in a row.

With their top three reserve offensive linemen (Don Barclay, Jason Spriggs and Murphy) all on injured reserve, the Packers signed offensive tackle Ulrick John to their active roster off the Arizona Cardinals' practice squad.

Both Bakhtiari and Bulaga practiced in a limited capacity Tuesday, but it remains to be seen whether either starting tackle will be available for Thursday night's game against Chicago.

"It's definitely not a position you want to be in," Bakhtiari said. "Technically, you have your five tackles all banged up right now. That's not something you want to see. We're a team at the end of the day. We have a philosophy of next man up and we expect everything from them."

The Packers have options depending on what happens with Bulaga and Bakhtiari. They're currently carrying nine offensive linemen on the 53-man roster with McCray, Lucas Patrick, rookie Adam Pankey and John spelling the starting five.

McCray, who previously played in the Arena Football League before making the roster this summer, was projected to be the primary backup at the Packers' three interior offensive line positions after Barclay was placed on IR.

However, the Packers tapped into McCray's history as a right tackle two weeks ago against Atlanta in a competitive spot start. They then turned to him again against the Bengals after Bulaga was forced to withdraw due to the ankle.

"I came in here and said I wanted to do as much as I could and I'm definitely doing as much as I can now," said McCray with a smile. "They prepare us well for it so it's not as bad as you may think. You get used to it."

Ulrick (6-6, 309) entered the league as a seventh-round pick with the Indianapolis Colts in 2014 before brief stints with the Miami Dolphins and Cardinals over the past two seasons.

The 25-year-old tackle arrived in Arizona under similar circumstances to now. Looking for help on the offensive line, the Cardinals signed Ulrick off Miami's practice squad in October 2016, and he wound up making three starts at right tackle during the final stretch of the season.

With the Cardinals playing Monday night, Ulrick said he was just about to head to the stadium for the game before his agent called and informed him the Packers had signed him.

"This is my third time learning a new system," John said. "Nothing new. Every year I started out on practice squad and got picked up somewhere. I'm ready to learn, get in as quick as I can and get out on the field."

Amidst all the changes at tackle, the Packers have leaned on their interior offensive line of Lane Taylor, Jahri Evans and Corey Linsley, which has remained intact thus far.

It's been their responsibility to make sure whoever is rotating at tackle is comfortable. Center Corey Linsley's first exposure to the NFL came in such fashion, replacing an injured JC Tretter in the 2014 regular-season opener.

"Communication is put at a premium," Linsley said. "We have to make sure everybody is on the same page and overemphasize on certain calls and make sure everybody knows what they're doing – and that goes for everybody. That's not just myself. That's the guards making sure the tackles are on the same page because that will help everybody out."

Bakhtiari has been happy with the progress he's made since injuring his hamstring in this year's opener against Seattle. The goal has been to make sure when he returns, he's healthy for the long haul.

"I think regardless of what's happened at the position or not, I've been attacking the issue we were dealt," Bakhtiari said. "I've been in the training room, maximizing my recovery every day. I think we're on a smart plan and we've been progressing. Moving forward, we're going to continue that same trend and get me back as quick as safe as possible."

The Packers received some good news during Tuesday's practice with six of the seven players who missed Sunday's win over Cincinnati returning in either limited or full capacity.

Receiver Randall Cobb (chest), linebackers Nick Perry (practicing with a club on his right hand) and Jake Ryan (hamstring/concussion), and safety Kentrell Brice (groin) were all full participants. Defensive tackle Mike Daniels (hip) and Bakhtiari were limited, while cornerback Davon House (quad) remained out.

Cobb told reporters he's "optimistic" to play Thursday after being cautious with the chest injury he sustained in Atlanta. Brice also was relieved to be back after exiting early against the Falcons.

"I feel pretty well," Brice said. "I've been on top of it as much as I can be. I've still been doing things just getting myself back to healthy. I've been taking day-by-day and was able to practice today, so I feel pretty well."

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