GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — In keeping his starters in street clothes for Thursday’s preseason game in Winnipeg, Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur decided to follow his instincts.
“It was just something in my gut,” LaFleur said on Friday, a day after a 22-21 loss to the Oakland Raiders. “I was told when you get this job to always trust your gut. The risk-reward wasn’t worth it to me.”
With a late change of plans, LaFleur kept 33 players on the sideline — a lengthy list that included quarterback Aaron Rodgers — because of the less-than-ideal field conditions.
Nonetheless, outside linebacker Rashan Gary, inside linebacker Curtis Bolton and receiver Equanimeous St. Brown suffered injuries during the first half of the team’s third preseason game.
In a post on his Instagram account, Gary — the 12th pick in this year’s draft — said he’s “well” and thanked fans for their prayers and concern. Gary chased down running back James Butler and had his neck bent backward in the collision. Gary stayed on the field for a few minutes before walking off the field and then being carted to the locker room.
St. Brown sustained an injured left ankle when his foot got stuck in the turf following a helmet-to-helmet collision. He reportedly will be sidelined for at least the first month of the season. Bolton suffered a knee injury and was on crutches after the game.
At least there is potential depth at receiver. It’s a different story at inside linebacker, where the team had lost second-year starter Oren Burks with a pectoral injury.
The undrafted Bolton had positioned himself to be Burks’ replacement. The injuries leave the team with only veteran starter Blake Martinez, seventh-round rookie Ty Summers and former undrafted free agents James Crawford and Brady Sheldon.
“I’m pretty confident that we’ll find the right solution,” said LaFleur, declining to talk in specifics about any of the injuries.
For LaFleur, a first-year head coach, this training camp and preseason would serve as a critical time to get his offense ready for a Week 1 showdown at Chicago.
Instead, having decided to keep most of his starters out of the preseason opener against Houston, again against Oakland and almost certainly in the final preseason game against Kansas City, LaFleur’s No. 1 offense will have minimal game action before the regular season.
Rodgers and top running back Aaron Jones, who were supposed to play against the Raiders, haven’t played at all in the preseason. Star receiver Davante Adams has played seven snaps. The No. 1 offensive line has played 15 snaps.
Then again, this is part of the new NFL reality. LaFleur spent 2017 as the offensive coordinator for Rams coach Sean McVay; McVay hasn’t played his top players in the preseason. Chicago’s No. 1 offense, led by quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, has played three snaps.
“I think everybody has a different philosophy on that,” LaFleur said. “It really goes back to being confident in the work that you get in throughout the entire training camp. I think that’s a big reason why you see a lot of these teams that are scrimmaging multiple teams to get the necessary competitive work, yet not put those guys at risk in those games when guys are live and you’re going to the ground. I think that’s something that we’ll look into the future, as well.”
The Packers will return to the practice field on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday before Thursday’s preseason finale against the Chiefs at Lambeau Field.
LaFleur said he was considering splitting his squad into two groups this week. On one side of the field, the front-line players would turn their attention to the Bears. On the other side of the field, the players battling for roster spots would get ready for the Chiefs.
“There are still some positional battles that are going on,” LaFleur said, “and you want to make sure these guys going into the last preseason game are well-prepared in terms of what they’re going to see so they can go out and play good quality football.”
Two of those position battles are quarterback and receiver. In the chase to be Rodgers’ backup, Tim Boyle threw two touchdown passes in the first half against Oakland and outplayed DeShone Kizer. LaFleur, however, said he’d wait until after the Kansas City game to pick a winner.
At receiver, Trevor Davis made a strong statement in his competition with St. Brown, Allen Lazard and Darrius Shepherd for one of the final spots. Davis returned from a stinger that sidelined him for two weeks and caught five passes for 78 yards and one touchdown, carried once for 18 yards and returned one punt for 17 yards.
“When his number was called, he made plays,” LaFleur said. “That’s what we’re going to continue to ask from him but he answered the bell.”
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