Sunday, December 1, 2013
Weekend wrap: The 57th man and more
By Rob Demovsky
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Emptying out the notebook from the week that was with the Green Bay Packers:
Special teams turnover: When linebacker Victor Aiyewa lined up on the kickoff coverage team to start Thursday's game against the Detroit Lions, he became the 57th player to appear on special teams for the Packers this season.
Aiyewa, who tackled Lions returner Jeremy Ross on the opening kickoff, was promoted from the practice squad only hours before the Packers boarded for their plane for the Thanksgiving game at Ford Field.
The 6-foot-1, 237-pound first-year linebacker from the University of Washington who spent part of the 2011 offseason with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers played 12 of the 27 special teams snaps in his NFL debut.
It was another sign of just how hard the Packers have been hit by injuries. As coach Mike McCarthy said earlier in the season, it impacts special teams the most.
With four games remaining this season, the Packers already have used more players on special teams than they did all of last season, when 54 different players appears on Shawn Slocum's units.
"We always have the ability to change where guys are playing and who's playing," said Slocum, the fifth-year special teams coach.
That doesn't mean it's easy or a recipe for success. The Packers entered Week 13 ranked last in average yards per kickoff return. They also entered the week allowing the most yards per kickoff return in the league, while their punt coverage unit also was ranked near the bottom, at No. 22 overall. They were eighth in punt return average.
Still high on Tolzien: Within a five-day stretch, quarterback Scott Tolzien was taken out of a game, lost his starting job and then wasn't called upon when his replacement struggled worse than he did.
Yet the Packers still may be high on him as a long-term backup to Aaron Rodgers.
"I really like Scott Tolzien," McCarthy said this past week. "I think he's a young, developing quarterback. I think he has a lot of growth in front of him."
In fact, the Packers probably like Tolzien more long term than they do Matt Flynn, who was ineffective in Thursday's loss to the Lions. When the Packers promoted Tolzien to the roster on Nov. 6, they signed him to a two-year deal. When they signed Flynn off the street six days later, they signed him only through the end of this season.
Sherrod's time: Next season, the Packers expect to have both of their first-round tackles available -- Derek Sherrod (a first-round pick in 2011) and Bryan Bulaga (2010).
Bulaga is continuing to rehab his reconstructed knee that he blew out in August, while Sherrod took another step toward making that a reality Thursday. It might have seemed insignificant at the time, but the fact that Sherrod took the final six snaps against the Lions at right tackle was a major milestone.
It represented the first offensive snaps for him in more than 23 months. Sherrod had not played on offense since he broke both bones in his lower right leg Dec. 18, 2011. He spent most of the last two years on the physically unable to perform list. He was finally activated off PUP on Nov. 5. He appeared in the next two games only on special teams before taking his first offensive snaps against the Lions.
"It was good for Derek," McCarthy said. "If there was anything you felt good about, walking off the field, that was about it. Just the fact to get him back on the field. It's been two years. Just with what he's gone through and the amount of work that he's put in, that's exactly what he needs."
Franklin's future: Rookie running back Johnathan Franklin made the trip to Detroit on the same day he was placed on season-ending injured reserve.
Franklin, a fourth-round pick from UCLA who rushed for 103 yards in Week 3 against the Cincinnati Bengals, declined to discuss his injury situation in the postgame locker room at Ford Field.
He left last Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings because of a concussion and a neck injury. McCarthy said it was neck injury that landed Franklin on injured reserve. It was unknown whether Franklin will need surgery.
Mailbag coming: With the long layoff between the Thanksgiving game and the next outing on Dec. 8 against the Atlanta Falcons, the weekly Twitter mailbag will be pushed back to Monday. Tweet your questions to me @RobDemovsky and use the hashtag #PackersMail.