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Packers taking wait-and-see approach with backfield

While AJ Dillon manages thumb injury, Aaron Jones feels close to a return


GREEN BAY – The Packers are prepping for every possible scenario with their backfield entering Sunday's showdown with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lambeau Field.

While Aaron Jones continues to progress from the knee injury that's sidelined him the past two games, AJ Dillon missed Thursday's practice due to a thumb injury he suffered in Monday night's 24-22 loss to the New York Giants.

The fourth-year running back said the injury occurred when he hit his thumb "just right" on an opposing player's helmet. To Dillon's credit, he did not leave the game.

The 6-foot, 247-pound running back hasn't missed an NFL game due to injury, playing in 54 consecutive contests (including postseason). The only five games Dillon has missed came on the COVID-19 reserve list as a rookie in 2020.

Pain tolerance and the ability to secure the football will both be considerations, as the Packers and Dillon make a determination on his availability.

"We've still got some days left in the week," said Dillon, who leads Green Bay with 574 rushing yards this season. "Those questions, I've got to figure out myself. If I can go, I'm going to go. I've played through some stuff in the past couple years or whatever that, obviously, I'm hurting but I'm good enough to go. I try to be out there if I can. That doesn't change right now."

As Green Bay gathers more information on Dillon's injury, Jones was a limited participant in Thursday's modified practice. According to Head Coach Matt LaFleur, the team did 15 minutes of individual work before conducting a jog-through.

Jones hasn't played since spraining the medial collateral ligament in his knee during last month's 23-20 win over the Los Angeles Chargers. The Pro Bowl running back also missed three games with a hamstring he strained in the opener in Chicago.

When asked about Jones' availability for Sunday, LaFleur said "we'll have a better indication tomorrow as we have our normal Friday practice."

From Jones' perspective, the seventh-year running back feels he's close to a return. Getting Jones would undoubtedly be a major boon for the offense, especially if Dillon is unable to go against the Buccaneers.

"I'm feeling a lot better," said Jones, who has 414 total yards and three touchdowns on 85 touches over seven games. "Got to move around today in practice and making great strides. I'm going to take it day-by-day, but I feel I'm confident for Sunday."

Jones' optimism is encouraging, but the Packers have contingencies in place if Jones and/or Dillon aren't given the green light.

Third-year running back Patrick Taylor has spelled Dillon in Jones' absence. He picked up 52 yards on six touches against the Giants and could be in line for more snaps against Tampa Bay.

Taylor started the season with Green Bay before being released in early October. After spending six weeks on New England's practice squad, the 6-foot-2, 217-pound running back re-signed to the Packers' 53-man roster hours after Jones' knee injury.

"Every week is the same," Taylor said. "I've been preparing like a starter since Week 1, when I was on practice squad here, so I continue to prepare the same way I do every week."

Eighth-year veteran Kenyan Drake provides an additional option for the Packers. Signed to the practice squad last week, Drake was elevated to the gameday roster vs. New York but didn't play.

The 29-year-old running back has posted 3,866 rushing yards and 33 touchdowns on 868 carries in 103 regular-season games with 44 starts. Drake also has caught 218 passes for 1,655 yards and eight receiving TDs.

"Kenyan's relatively new to our system, but he's a pro," LaFleur said. "He's been around a lot of ball, so I think it's easier, I would say, to acclimate in a timely fashion for guys that have been around a lot of different places, so I've got no reservations about him. Obviously, P.T.'s done a lot of good things for us, and so we'll roll how we need to roll."

Whichever running backs suit up for Green Bay this Sunday know they'll have their work cut out for them against a versatile Tampa Bay defense that ranks 10th against the run (98.8 yards per game) and fourth in the red zone (41.9%).

"They present you with different looks, pressures; a variety of looks, so you know never know who's coming (on a blitz)," Jones said. "Everybody's eligible across the board. They may show one way and then drop guys out and bring it the other way. They try to confuse you."

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