GREEN BAY — No one is panicking just yet. Maybe Bryan Bulaga’s ankle has gotten noticeably better while he’s been battling the flu bug the past two days. Maybe David Bakhtiari’s hamstring isn’t as bad as it felt after he did the splits like an oversized Olympic gymnast last Sunday against Seattle.
But with Sunday’s NFC Championship Game rematch with the Atlanta Falcons getting closer, it’s not out of the realm of possibility the Green Bay Packers will take the field without both of their starting tackles — with a 2016 sixth-round pick (Kyle Murphy) at Bulaga’s right tackle spot and an rookie free agent just called up from the practice squad (Adam Pankey) in Bakhtiari’s left tackle spot.
“You just continue to go through the process. As of right now we have two more days of preparation,” offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said Thursday evening when asked about the possibility of being without one of the top tackle tandems in the NFL. “The injury part of it, that’ll work itself out. But we do have a plan in place.”
For the second straight day, Bakhtiari was listed as a limited participant in practice. He was in pads and taking part in all the drill work during the portion of practice open to reporters, but it’s unclear how much 11-on-11 work he did in team periods. Bulaga, meanwhile, was sent home for the second straight day by the medical staff because he was still experiencing “flu-type symptoms,” according to coach Mike McCarthy.
“I don’t really have a feel for Bryan because we haven’t worked him since Monday on his ankle. So we’ve got to hopefully see where he is tomorrow,” McCarthy said Thursday morning. “Speaking with Bryan this morning when he came in, you know, he was dehydrated and things like that. So, we’ll just take the week.”
Compounding the Packers’ challenges is two of their would-be options at tackle won’t be available, either. Entering training camp, the Packers had second-year man Jason Spriggs penciled in as their backup left tackle, and veteran Don Barclay pegged as their backup right tackle. Now, McCarthy said Spriggs is out “a couple of weeks” with a hamstring injury suffered against the Seahawks, and Barclay is on injured reserve after sustaining a significant ankle injury in training camp.
McCarthy made sure Murphy, who played just eight snaps on offense as a rookie last year, got ample help against the Seahawks, using veteran right guard Jahri Evans and tight ends and running backs to assist him. Still, Murphy deserved credit for holding his own in his first NFL start as well.
“I think he did a great job,” wide receiver Jordy Nelson said. “I’m sure he’s excited about the way he performed (in) his first opportunity to be out there. And he has another (challenge) coming this week.”
While facing the Seahawks’ imposing pass rush wasn’t easy, Murphy will face a different challenge if he gets the call again Sunday night — he’ll be playing on the road in a loud environment where getting off the ball on the snap will be much tougher than it was at Lambeau Field.
“I thought I did all right. There were a few things where Jahri and some of the tight ends helped me out, where I could have done better fundamental-wise, finished blocks,” Murphy said. “Whenever I’ve played since I was a little kid, games never feel perfect. There’s always good, there’s always bad. I’m just glad it was good enough to get our team the win. That’s obviously the main goal.”
The 6-foot-5, 324-pound Pankey moved all over the offensive line at West Virginia, starting 36 games over his final three seasons — at left tackle in 2014, left guard in 2015 and right guard last year as a senior. In camp, he worked at both guard and tackle but was not among the 10 offensive linemen the Packers kept at the final roster reduction Sept. 2. He was called up from the practice squad on Wednesday.
For now, the Packers aren’t resigned to the idea of putting Pankey in such a challenging spot.
“He’s a player who gives us additional depth. He’s a versatile player, can play multiple spots,” Bennett said. “But it’s still early in the process.”