The Packers have to be feeling good about winning their last two games against the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers, but they received equally bad news when it was revealed that starters Aaron Kampman and Al Harris would miss the rest of the season with torn ACL’s.
Not that injuries ever come at a good time, but the news came at a terrible time for a Packers defense that, after a poor showing against Minnesota and Tampa Bay, had strung together two solid performances before Harris and Kampman went down.
Both players were injured on seemingly freak accidents where neither were involved in the play; in Harris’s case, it happened 30 yards away from the play.
It was a “here we go again” moment for the Packers defense, who up to this point had avoided major injury on defense. Last season, Cullen Jenkins, Nick Barnett, Atari Bigby, and Harris all missed time with injuries, leading to a 22nd-ranked defense.
In a season where the Packers continued to become more comfortable as each game passed in the new 3-4 defense, new personnel will have to step on the field and become acclimated even faster.
The two players most affected by the injuries are certainly cornerback Tramon Williams and outside linebacker Brad Jones.
Williams, the fourth year nickelback from Louisiana Tech, was to be the heir to Al Harris or Charles Woodson once either of them decided to hang up the cleats, but his number has been called earlier than expected and he should to be up to task.
More than the cornerback duo and safety combo of Nick Collins and Bigby, Green Bay’s secondary was considered one of the best in the league because teams faced three starting cornerbacks when they went with three wideouts. Williams was the reason why.
At 27, Williams is in the prime of his career and is arguably the Packers’ best bump n’ run cornerback.
The drop-off from Harris to Williams will not hurt the Packers much, but the real problem is the lack of depth the Packers now have in the nickel and dime spots. With Williams moving up to the starting role, either Jarrett Bush or Brandon Underwood will take over the third cornerback role.
Both are liabilities, but have shown flashes of being able to get the job done. Brandon Chillar coming back in a few weeks will help the cause and newly signed Josh Bell could compete as well.
At the outside linebacker spot, rookie Brad Jones will likely step in for Kampman.
Jones, a seventh round selection out of Colorado, started against the Cowboys as Kampman was unable to go with a concussion. He played well and finished the game with seven tackles; he also racked up two tackles after subbing for Kampman against San Francisco.
It is still a step down from Kampman, but Jones did a fine job getting after the quarterback and his speed will help on pass defense.
The Packers’ first test will come tomorrow against the Lions, and while no game should ever be overlooked (see Tampa Bay), it will help the Packers work their new starters into the defense. After that, the defense will have 11 days to figure out what is going to work and what needs to happen for the Packers to have continued success without two of their best defenders.
Replacing 92 tackles and two veterans in a span of four days will be no easy task for Dom Capers and the Packers’ defense, but both Williams and Jones have been on the field for a good amount of time already and have both started a game. It is definitely something to look for in tomorrow’s game, regardless of the opponent.