The Packers will have their primary run stuffers at full strength on Sunday, which is a comforting thought with San Francisco's Frank Gore coming to town.
Not long ago, the health of Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji – who along with C.J. Wilson are the Packers' starters up front in their base defense – wasn't a given. Pickett went down with a calf injury in the third preseason game, and Raji then injured his ankle on the opening snap of the fourth game last week. Facing power backs like the 49ers' Gore and Kendall Hunter without either or both of them would have caused considerable concern.
But both Pickett and Raji returned to practice this week and are set to go. Pickett isn't even on the injury report, while Raji fully participated in practice on both Thursday and Friday and is listed as probable.
"Most definitely we need to be 100 percent," Pickett said of the duo. "I feel great."
Gore certainly commands a great deal of respect from the Packers. As the offensive coordinator of the 49ers back in 2005, Mike McCarthy coached Gore in his rookie season, and the young Miami product ran for 608 yards at 4.8 yards per carry in a part-time role. For an offense that struggled with injuries and a rookie quarterback, Gore was a tremendous bright spot.
"Anybody who's had a chance to coach him really appreciates Frank," McCarthy said. "The way he plays, his talent, his instincts, his power. He's definitely one of the better players that I've been blessed to coach in this league. I think that says enough right there. Frank Gore is someone you definitely have to be aware of."
Since his first season, Gore has topped 1,000 yards five of the last six years, compiling 1,211 yards with eight touchdowns last season. He's now 29 and approaching the age of decline for running backs, but the Packers aren't counting on there being anything "old" about him in Sunday's opener. Gore has always been small in stature but not in size. He's listed at 5-9, 217.
"Between the tackles, his ability to get fast and skinny in the hole is exceptional," McCarthy said. "He still has the ability to take a long run, and he's a lot more powerful man than I think people realize."
As far as the Packers' ground game goes, No. 2 running back Alex Green sat out practice on Friday as the coaches were "playing it safe" with him. Green has been on a snap count throughout training camp and the preseason as he comes back from reconstructive knee surgery, and with an extra practice this week on Monday, McCarthy didn't want to push Green through four workouts in a span of five days.
"Starting slow really probably did more than we had hoped for," McCarthy said of the rehab plan all summer with Green, who injured his knee last October. "That's good, and I think he's definitely ready to go."
Green, who is listed as probable on the injury report and is expected to share some carries with newcomer Cedric Benson, said he understands the team's cautious approach, even if he has felt fine. He said he's still progressing in his efforts to regain his explosiveness.
"It doesn't hurt me to take a day off," he said. "If it'll better me for Sunday, I'm all for it."
In other injury news, tight end Tom Crabtree (shoulder), linebacker Robert Francois (hamstring) and safety Sean Richardson (hamstring) are all listed as probable.
Three Packers have been ruled out for Sunday: running back James Starks (toe), linebacker Jamari Lattimore (ankle) and cornerback Davon House (shoulder).
McCarthy noted that he liked what he saw of House on Thursday, when he practiced in pads for the first time since Week 1 of the preseason. McCarthy said House's medical evaluations have been positive, but he simply hasn't gotten enough work in to play after missing three full weeks.
"At the end of the day, I didn't think it was practical to put him out there," McCarthy said. "He's a young player coming off of that injury. So we'll see how he is next week." Additional coverage - Sept. 7