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Packers To Move On Without Brown, Westbrook


Last year the Green Bay Packers were in only their second regular season game when offensive tackle Mark Tauscher became the first starter to go down to a season-ending injury.

This year the injury bug didn't even wait that long to bite.

With three preseason games left before the regular season gets under way, the Packers have already learned that they'll be without the services of nose tackle Gilbert Brown and defensive back Bryant Westbrook for the remainder of the season.

Both were injured in Saturday night's preseason win against the Atlanta Falcons.

Westbrook, who in 2000 tore his left Achilles tendon, ruptured his right Achilles in the game's opening drive.

Brown tore his right biceps in the second quarter.

"It's a tough sport," said rookie linebacker Nick Barnett, who was at Oregon State University during the Packers' injury epidemic of 2002, which saw five key players finish the season on injured reserve.

"We're not sitting in an office, we're out there banging heads ... Things happen and all we can do is bounce back and other guys have to step up and make plays."

Both injuries are considerable blows, but the Packers' depth in the secondary makes withstanding the loss of Westbrook a little easier. Just who will step in for Brown is still to be determined.

At least for the moment, Steve Martin takes over the No. 1 job. Signed to the team in July, Martin made five starts while playing in 14 games for the New England Patriots last season.

Entering his eighth NFL campaign, he is by far the most experienced of the Packers' current backups. He's also the healthiest.

Rod Walker is still getting over shoulder injuries that date back to the 2002 season. Fifth-round draft pick James Lee hasn't practiced since July 24 due to a hip injury.

Steve Warren began camp on the physically unable to perform list with back pain, but returned last week. Terdell Sands drew praise in the first week of camp, but then went down with a sprained ankle that kept him out until Monday.

GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman hasn't ruled out the possibility that the Packers will test the free agent market to find a replacement for Brown, but Monday he did express confidence that the rest of the team's nose tackles can contribute, once healthy.

"Honestly, I felt we were okay there at one time, with Rod and the young nose tackles," Sherman said. "We have girth, we have athletes, we have all that. We just don't have them on the field.

"It's just a matter of getting them on the field, but we'll always look outside the box. If we can find somebody that can help us, we'll definitely do that."

Sherman said he prefers to have large-bodied players at nose tackle to occupy blockers and leave the linebackers free to run to the football.

At 6-foot-7, 337 pounds, Sands fits that bill, but since being drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the seventh round in 2001, he's yet to play in a regular season game. He first came to the Packers as a practice squad player in November 2002.

Thus the return of Walker (320 pounds) and the rehabilitation and development Lee (325 pounds), become paramount. Both are expected to be available for at least partial practice participation in the next week or two.

Even if the Packers don't have an instant answer who can plug the hole at nose tackle as expertly as Brown filled gaps in the line, they learned well last season how to win games in the face of adversity. Now they'll have to do the same, right from the start.

"I'm working with what I have," defensive line coach Jethro Franklin said. "Coach Sherman and (director of pro personnel) Reggie McKenzie and (vice president of football operations) Mark Hatley, they're going to make sure that we have players on this field to win a championship ...

"My heart goes out to (Brown). That is a tough blow -- a guy who has been an icon, a mainstay here, to go through something like that. (But) we're going to get it together. It's a temporary setback for us."

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