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Pack of injuries

Green Bay to get Levens, Verba back for Minnesota game

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Posted: Monday December 13, 1999 10:05 PM

  Corey Bradford Green Bay wide receiver Corey Bradford has five touchdown receptions this season. Brian Bahr/Allsport

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) -- Ray Rhodes said he plans to have Dorsey Levens, Ross Verba and Jeff Thomason back in the lineup when the Green Bay Packers travel to Minnesota next Monday night.

But they might be replaced on the injury report by Corey Bradford, Jude Waddy, Mike McKenzie and Scott McGarrahan, all of whom will be listed as questionable for the game, Rhodes said.

Bradford, the Packers' best big-play receiving threat this season, suffered a leg injury while tackling Panthers kick returner Michael Bates on the first play of the second half in Sunday's 33-31 loss to Carolina. The team originally called the injury a 'banged knee,' but on Monday Rhodes said Bradford severely twisted his ankle.

Bradford began the year as the Packers' third receiver and top special teams player, leading the team in tackles. But he was taken off special teams duties a few weeks ago when his receiving responsibilities were increased, and he was only on the kickoff coverage team Sunday because of injuries.

McKenzie and McGarrahan went down during the game with injuries and tried to return. McKenzie suffered a painful hip pointer bruise and briefly returned, but he reaggravated the injury and was ineffective.

Of course, that barely made him stand out in a Packers secondary that was torched all afternoon by Panthers quarterback Steve Beuerlein. McGarrahan, a seldom-used safety and special-teams player, suffered a pulled hamstring.

"He's a guy that does a lot of running, so that's one that we're very concerned with," Rhodes said.

Waddy, who moved into the Packers' starting lineup when Brian Williams was knocked out for the season, suffered a sprained neck, Rhodes said. Waddy wasn't wearing any precautionary devices on Monday, but dressed gingerly in the Packers' locker room.

"It's awful sore and stiff this morning," Rhodes said.

Levens, who was the Packers' leading rusher and receiver before sitting out the last two games with bruised ribs, is expected to take his job back from the rookie tandem of De'Mond Parker and Basil Mitchell, who took turns excelling in the last two weeks.

Parker had 113 rushing yards and two touchdowns in Green Bay's win over Chicago on Dec. 5, while Mitchell had 49 rushing yards and blocked effectively in the Packers' loss to Carolina. Levens didn't practice last week, but Rhodes expects him to suit up this week.

Verba is just three weeks removed from knee surgery to repair cartilage damage he suffered on Nov. 21, but he practiced lightly last week and is expected to go full-steam this week. Rhodes said Verba will get his starting job back from Mike Wahle, who filled in the last two weeks.

Thomason, a backup tight end for several seasons, will also return after missing two games with a knee injury.

Running to stand still

The good news was that the Green Bay defense held Carolina to 8 rushing yards on Sunday. That's the second-smallest rushing total for a winning team in recent NFL history.

The much heavier bad news was that Carolina offensive coordinator (and longtime Packers assistant) Gil Haskell had no reason to even try to run. Green Bay's pass defense played arguably its worst game since last season's 37-24 Monday-night debacle against the Minnesota Vikings.

Beuerlein threw for 373 yards. More importantly, he threw to wide-open receivers all afternoon.

But the defensive line and the linebackers were equally as culpable as the secondary. With no defensive pressure on him, Beuerlein was able to take simple five-step drops and then pick and choose his receivers.

"I feel like we let everybody down on defense," defensive tackle Santana Dotson said. "We felt like we were getting a lot better, but it didn't show up on the field at all."

Blown coverages were the most frequent culprits for the Packers, who lost starting cornerback Mike McKenzie for a significant portion of the game. Backup Antuan Edwards, who was thrust into the role with almost no preparation time, played soft, but so did the Packers' linebackers and safeties.

The defensive line was reduced to three men for much of the second half as the Packers tried to help out their secondary. The result was an easy day for Beuerlein, one of football's least mobile and most easily sackable quarterbacks.

"We were just killing ourselves out there with the mistakes," said Keith McKenzie, the Packers' designated pass-rusher. He returned an interception 18 yards for a touchdown, but didn't have a sack.

"We made a whole bunch of mistakes on defense," lineman Vaughn Booker said. "It just goes down to the basics: Tackling, covering, getting pressure. If we make even a couple of plays, that's a different ballgame."

Like Rhodes, Booker expressed concern about the on-field communication among the Packers defenders. In particular, he was concerned that the players couldn't hear some of the defensive calls in the noisy atmosphere of Lambeau Field.

"I think we kind of shot ourselves in the foot with that one," Booker said. "I couldn't hear a lot of the calls. I assumed they were being called, just because of what I know about the system."

Rhodes claimed the Panthers didn't show Green Bay any offensive looks the Packers hadn't seen on videotape, but several defensive players disagreed. In particular, they seemed confused by the four-wideout sets used by Haskell, who runs a more pure version of the West Coast offense favored by so many teams, including the Packers.

"They gave us some different looks than we had seen before," Keith McKenzie said. "Give them credit for doing a great job."


 
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