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One look around the NFL during the Green Bay Packers’ bye showed just how much they miss the group of top-line players they lost in free agency last spring.

News of Martellus Bennett’s tentative plans to retire after this season make what happened with Jared Cook look even more perplexing.

Meanwhile, linebacker Julius Peppers recorded sack No. 7.5 this season — equaling his total from all of last season with the Packers — for the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, and safety Micah Hyde picked off his league-leading fifth pass for the Buffalo Bills.

Two of their former offensive linemen who left in free agency also lined up as starters for their new teams: T.J. Lang with the Detroit Lions and JC Tretter with the Cleveland Browns.

It’s hard to say which of those five free-agent losses the Packers miss most. Every one of those areas has proved problematic in Green Bay through the first seven games.

The Packers thought they had more than made up for Cook when they signed both Bennett and Lance Kendricks after negotiations surprisingly broke down with Cook. Cook and his agent either overplayed their hand or the Packers wouldn’t budge on their offer. Either way, the Packers turned elsewhere before Cook had anything in the works with the Oakland Raiders, who eventually signed him to a two-year, $10.6 million deal.

Cook, with 31 catches for 373 yards and one touchdown, has been more productive than Bennett (24 catches, 233 yards and no touchdowns) and also doesn’t plan on retiring after this season.

Then there’s Peppers, who has more sacks this season than Nick Perry (3.5 sacks) and Clay Matthews (2.5) combined. The Packers’ struggling defense, which entered Week 8 ranked 22nd overall, could have certainly used another pass-rusher. Peppers went back to Carolina for a one-year, $3.5 million deal, while the Packers re-signed Perry to a five-year, $60 million deal.

The Packers didn’t even make Hyde an offer before he signed a five-year, $30.5 million contract with the Bills. Meanwhile, the Packers’ secondary has been a mess with injuries at both cornerback and safety. Hyde’s five interceptions nearly equal the Packers’ entire team total of six this season.

On the offensive line, the Packers have started a different combination in each of their seven games this season. Meanwhile, Tretter has started every game for the Browns, while Lang has started all but one game for the Lions.

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When veteran tight end Martellus Bennett signed a three-year, $21 million contract with the Packers this spring, he never offered any hint that his stay would be much shorter.

But Bennett might be calling it quits after just one year in Green Bay.

Bennett, 30, posted an Instagram story on Saturday saying he is considering retirement after this season, his 10th in the NFL.

“After conversations with my family, I’m pretty sure these next eight games will be the conclusion of my NFL career,” Bennett wrote. “To everyone that has poured themselves and time into my life and career. These next games are for you. Thank you.”

A Packers source confirmed Saturday that the team is aware of Bennett’s possible retirement after the season. Green Bay, which is on a bye this week, has nine games to go in the regular season.

Even after he signed with the Packers, Bennett maintained his home in Long Grove, Illinois, a northern suburb. Bennett spoke frequently about the return trips he made there to see his wife and daughter.

“It’s only two-and-a-half hours from here, so it’s been a blessing,” Bennett said last spring during OTAs.

Bennett got off to a slow start this season and battled drops, but he has 24 catches (fourth-most on the team) for 233 yards without a touchdown.

Before Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone, the Packers quarterback said he needed to make sure he got Bennett more involved early in games. Earlier this month, Bennett said he wasn’t disappointed in his relatively limited production because he was still getting used to playing with Rodgers, and the Packers were winning. They were 4-1 at the time but have lost two straight since Rodgers went down.

“It’s a long season,” Bennett said earlier this month. “The season’s still getting started. For me, I left a couple of plays on the field here and there, but it’s just getting used to and getting acclimated to playing in a game-type situation with Aaron and the team and the flow of things. So just try to figure out that, try to get in a good rhythm. I haven’t really been able to get in a rhythm yet. But we’re just getting started, and we’re winning games. That’s all that really matters.

“It doesn’t matter if I have 10 catches or two catches. There’s a lot of stuff I’ll make an impact in the game with. It doesn’t matter if I’m getting the ball or not. If my impact on this week’s game is chipping a lot, I’m going to try to do the best job I can do chipping. If they need me to catch 10 balls, I’m going to try to go catch 10 balls. Every single week is different. I know a lot of the outside people look at statistics, but I just look at Ws.”

The Packers signed Bennett after they decided to let tight end Jared Cook leave in free agency. Cook then signed a two-year, $10.6 million deal with the Raiders.

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Everything has happened so fast. It seems like only yesterday Aaron Jones  was a healthy scratch during the Packers’ season opener against the Seattle Seahawks.

However, opportunity knocked last month against the Chicago Bears and Jones answered the call after Ty Montgomery  and Jamaal Williams  exited due to injury.

Before the game, Alvin Jr. joked with his brother about making sure his first NFL carry went for a touchdown. Although that didn’t happen – Aaron gained four yards on the play – he ran hard en route to 49 yards on 13 carries.

A week later, Jones started his first NFL game against the Dallas Cowboys. His parents, friends and family made the trip to Arlington as Jones rushed for 125 yards and a touchdown in a 35-31 victory, earning him NFL rookie of the week honors.

Back at UTEP, Alvin Jr. watched the game with teammates between meetings and weightlifting.

“It was just crazy watching it on TV,” Alvin Jr. said. “We’re watching it in the locker room and everyone is just going crazy. The Cowboys were our favorite team growing up and he got to do it there in front of everybody, all of our family.”

Jones has compiled the fourth-most rushing yards (297) since Week 5 and sits behind only Atlanta’s Devonta Freeman with a first-down run percentage of 27.4 percent. His 5.6 yards per carry ranks third in the NFL among backs with at least 6.25 carries per game.

Alvin Sr. and Vurgess have been there for all of it. It’s required some pinpoint planning on Vurgess’ part, but the couple also has made it to all seven of Alvin Jr.’s games at UTEP without a hitch.

“It’s just knowing we always have a support system,” Alvin Jr. said. “We always have someone to talk to no matter what or no matter where we go to. We’re going to have someone at our games supporting us, even if we’re in New York or wherever.”

Aaron admits having family in town the week of the Saints game was good for his soul. With his mom arriving Wednesday and twin brother flying in Thursday, Jones couldn’t wait to show them around his new home in Green Bay.

The opportunity to take a photo with his brother during pregame warmups also made it a moment he’ll never forget. The two have been around the world together and served as each other’s biggest motivators.

Now, they were there to watch Aaron play on one of football’s most cherished fields.

“It was really special,” Aaron said. “We talked before the game, after the game. He was excited he got to see some of the players. It’s always a treat when I get to have my brother here. I just feel complete.”

After the game, Alvin Jr. told Aaron “you look like you belong out there” before adding in a joking manner that he appeared a “little slow” on the 46-yard touchdown run.

Dismissed for the Packers’ bye week, Jones returned home to El Paso this week. He even joined Alvin during a visit at a local hospital, trying to lift the spirits of patients and giving gifts to children.

Statistics measure success, but it’s that image of their children giving back that brings a smile to the faces of Alvin Sr. and Vurgess.

The two have traveled the world together and seen everything there is to see, but there’s no place they’d rather be right now than in the stands every Saturday and Sunday watching their sons live out their dreams.

“What I’ve told Aaron and Alvin, this is a reward for all the hard work that you guys have put in,” Alvin Sr. said. “What mom and I always try to do with them, even now, is make sure they understand why they’re successful. That, first and foremost, is the blessing from the man wupstairs. Secondly, we try to keep them humble and working hard. No matter how much success you have, there’s always something you can improve so continue to work hard, stay humble and good things will always happen for you.”

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The same unit that held back the Green Bay Packers when it mattered most last season remains so problematic that even Aaron Rodgers’ presence may not have been enough to get them back to the brink of the Super Bowl this season.

Without Rodgers to cover up for the missteps on defense, coordinator Dom Capers’ unit was exposed for what it is: a subpar unit that may have fixed some of the problems that ended their season in the NFC title game last year but ultimately has too many other issues.

From a pure rankings standpoint, the Packers are once again below average at best on that side of the ball. They finished 22nd in total defense last season and rank in the same spot after seven games this year. They stand better against the pass (16th this year compared with 31st last season) and worse against the run (27th now, eighth last season).

Things looked even worse in last Sunday’s 26-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints at Lambeau Field. Two early takeaways — interceptions by a resurgent Damarious Randall and Davon House — only delayed the inevitable collapse against quarterback Drew Brees, who hardly ever tested the Packers deep. Instead, a variety of screens and short passes confounded the 11 on defense — when they bothered to field 11, that is. They had only 10 defenders on the field for Mark Ingram’s 12-yard touchdown run on a third-and-2 play in the second quarter.

“That was kind of a gift touchdown off having 10 people on the field,” Capers said.

This defense isn’t good enough to give anything away.

“We’ve got to be better there,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “We talked about the communication; it was clearly not good enough. We’ve got to be way better than we were. We knew they were going to roll the personnel group in; they rolled in nine personnel groups [during the game]. They stretched you at the end of the 40-second clock. We weren’t even close to where we needed to be.”

The same could be said for the collective performance through seven games. Sure, injuries have ravaged the secondary, but at least on Sunday against the Saints they had all of their preferred players except for starting strong safety Morgan Burnett.

The issues that have plagued the defense have been many, missed tackles and the lack of a pass rush chief among them. The Packers rank 27th in sack percentage overall but 32nd (last) in the past three games, when they have recorded just two sacks (both by Nick Perry).

When the pass rush should be most effective on obvious third-down pass plays, it hasn’t been. Brees got the ball out quickly on a hitch to Ted Ginn, who converted a third-and-17. Earlier, tight end Coby Fleener was wide open for a 17-yard gain on third-and-3. On a third-and-9 play in the third quarter, Mike Daniels got to Brees a second too late to prevent a throw downfield to Michael Thomas for a 21-yard gain. On that play, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, a Pro Bowler with five interceptions last year, sat back behind Thomas and did not make a play on the ball.

Although Clinton-Dix insisted he isn’t hurt, his play this season would suggest otherwise. He hasn’t been around the ball as much as he was last season, and when he has been he hasn’t made many plays. Without Burnett, who has missed the past two games because of a hamstring injury, Capers has relied more on Clinton-Dix to get players lined up.

“He’s had a lot more on his plate, so who knows how much that affects people,” Capers said of Clinton-Dix. “When you get used to playing, he’s been playing with Morgan out there. Morgan takes on a different role and Ha can focus in on certain things, and now Ha’s had to pick up that role and it gives him a lot more responsibility.”

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Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams had already slipped out of the locker room after last Sunday’s loss to the New Orleans Saints, but fellow Green Bay Packers receiver Randall Cobb felt comfortable enough to speak for the group.

“We always talk about, as a receiving group, this offense goes through us,” Cobb said. “We’ve got to do a better job when we have those opportunities.”

But what could Cobb & Co. do with so few opportunities in quarterback Brett Hundley’s first start?

“That’s not my job,” Cobb said. “That’s how it works, but that’s not my job to do that. My job is to execute the plays that’s called.”

It was a better question for coach Mike McCarthy and offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett. The offensive brain trust admitted they need to get the ball in the hands of their perimeter playmakers far more often than they did.

“We do, and we will,” Bennett said. “You can go back and look at the game, we had some opportunities, but we also when those opportunities came about, maybe there was a breakdown from a fundamental standpoint as far as from pass protection, and it wasn’t quite as clean as it needs to be as far as keeping Brett in rhythm and keeping him on his time clock. I think it all plays a factor in our plan and what we plan on doing, going out and executing.”

Now, they have the bye week to figure out how to do it. Whatever the solution, they must take the training wheels off Hundley. For the Packers to have any chance to remain a playoff contender without Aaron Rodgers, they will have to put Hundley in position to get the ball to Cobb, Nelson and Adams along with tight end Martellus Bennett.

“Jordy Nelson, Davante, Marty, Randall Cobb, those guys have got to touch the ball,” McCarthy said. “We didn’t get that done. Now, how many times have we run for 180-plus yards? Not very often. You’re supposed to win those games. So, we have a lot to build off of.”

The running game that featured a 131-yard performance from rookie Aaron Jones was supposed to take some of the pressure off Hundley and keep defenses honest. But until Hundley shows he can push the ball down the field — or McCarthy shows that he will let Hundley do so — then teams might dare the Packers to throw it.

Hundley completed just 12-of-25 passes for 87 with no touchdowns and an interception. He was just the third Packers quarterback in the past 35 seasons to throw at least 25 times with fewer than 100 yards passing (Brett Favre in Week 11 of 2003 at Tampa Bay and Don Majkowski in Week 9 of 1988 at Buffalo were the others).

“You can’t let him feel the weight of the world,” McCarthy said. “It’s part of the playing the position, I get that. Just stay in tune with what he’s being asked to do. Is the game plan as big as it was the week before? Absolutely not. We need to be more creative and make sure we’re giving him the things that he needs. You have to be in tune with what his training is and what he’s done in fitting the time clock with the perimeter because at the end of the day when you call a football game you have to get the ball to your playmakers. And we didn’t get that done.”

Hundley failed to complete any of his throws that went 15 yards or more downfield, but there were only four of them, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and one was picked off. He completed only 3 of 8 passes for 25 yards when he targeted Nelson and Adams. Rodgers, by comparison, completed 64 percent to those two this season, including 10 touchdowns.

“I get what the numbers say, but the offense had 50 plays, the defense had 75,” McCarthy said. “When you’re going to break down Brett’s snaps, you have to look at opportunities, and you look at the opportunities, you look at the execution of those opportunities. He will do better, because the majority of his issues were more in the area of time clock and timing.

“He wasn’t given a lot of opportunities and we were 4-for-11 on third down, so we get two or three more third downs, defense gets off the field, maybe we’re having a different story that we’re talking about right now.”

McCarthy remained as emphatic in his support for Hundley as he was last week before his first start.

“I feel the same way today as I did going into the week,” McCarthy said. “I know this young man, I believe in him. That’s the direction we’re going.”

 

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The Green Bay Packers have signed WR Max McCaffrey to the practice squad and released T/G Don Barclay  from injured reserve. The transactions were announced Tuesday by Executive Vice President, General Manager and Director of Football Operations Ted Thompson.

McCaffrey, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound first-year player, was originally signed as an undrafted rookie by the Oakland Raiders out of Duke on May 10, 2016, but was released on Aug. 29, 2016. He was signed to the Packers’ practice squad on Dec. 20, 2016, and then to the active roster on Jan. 21, 2017, where he was inactive for the NFC Championship game. After being released by Green Bay this season after training camp, McCaffrey spent just over a week on the New Orleans Saints’ practice squad before being signed to the active roster by the Jacksonville Jaguars. He played in five games with the Jaguars before being released on Oct. 21. McCaffrey will wear No. 13 for the Packers.

Barclay played in 62 regular-season games with 24 starts for the Packers since being signed by Green Bay as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2012. He also appeared in eight postseason contests with three starts for the Packers.

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One total was 181. Another was seven. The first was fantastic, the second not nearly enough.

The numbers represent the Packers’ rushing yards in Sunday’s loss to the Saints, and how many times Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, Randall Cobb and Martellus Bennett got their hands on the football.

When it came to reviewing the offensive performance, that discrepancy was something Head Coach Mike McCarthy was focused on. The big first number should have led to a much bigger second number, but it didn’t, and the Packers must capitalize on that moving forward with new quarterback

Brett Hundley.

“When you call a football game, you have to get the ball to your playmakers, and we didn’t get that done yesterday,” McCarthy said on Monday just after dismissing his team for the bye week. “Jordy Nelson, Davante, Marty, Randall Cobb. Those guys have to touch the ball.

“How many times have we run for 180-plus yards? Not very often. You’re supposed to win those games. We have a lot to build off of.”

The building will continue with Hundley, who McCarthy remains confident will play better, particularly if rookie running back Aaron Jones can repeat his 17-carry, 131-yard rushing performance.

McCarthy laid out numerous factors behind Hundley’s struggles in going 12-of-25 for just 83 yards through the air.

Two failed third-and-ones in the first half, both coming on the heels of the defense’s two interceptions, contributed to Hundley only getting 50 snaps by game’s end. His “time clock and timing” were not sharp in the drop-back passing game. It was better off play-action, but McCarthy said there were a couple of protection breakdowns on those plays. Finding out on Friday that right tackle Bryan Bulaga would play but left guard Lane Taylor would not, the exact opposite of what the coaches planned for early in the week, led to some last-minute adjustments as well.

Those are the issues McCarthy is focused on, not the swirling suggestions or criticisms that the game plan was supposedly too conservative and didn’t allow Hundley the opportunity to make enough plays.

That said, there will be a process to Hundley’s in-game development.

“Was the game plan as big as it was the week before (with Aaron Rodgers)? Absolutely not,” McCarthy said. “And frankly, it’s going to get smaller. We need to be more creative.

“I feel the same way today as I did going into the week. I know this young man. I believe in him. That’s the direction we’re going.”

There’s plenty to clean up elsewhere, too. Four of the Packers’ eight accepted penalties occurred on special teams.

Also, because of players going in and out of the lineup during the game due to injuries, the Packers continue to have substitution problems on defense.

Once it cost them an early timeout, and another time only 10 defenders were on the field for Mark Ingram’s way-too-easy 12-yard TD run on third-and-1.

“It’s been excessive,” McCarthy said of the changing sub patterns and communication miscues. “Clearly not good enough.”

The loss of all-everything safety Morgan Burnett due to a hamstring injury the last two games hasn’t helped. If the defense has a glue guy from a communication and leadership standpoint, it’s Burnett, and defensive coordinator Dom Capers suggested his absence could be hindering the playmaking abilities of 2016 Pro Bowl safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the back end as well.

At the same time, the play of tackling leader Blake Martinez and interception leader Damarious Randall, with three interceptions in the last three games, has been elevated. Rookie punter Justin Vogel had another field-flipping 60-yard boot.

The inconsistency in all phases can be maddening, but the most disheartening thing to McCarthy is seeing his team sharpen up some poor practice habits without getting the results in the game.

“We haven’t been very good the last two weeks. I told them before the Minnesota game they’re not practicing the right way, and this thing is going to bite us and we have to get on top of it,” McCarthy said. “We had a very good week of practice. We actually had our best week of practice. It happens. The Saints played a very good second half. We didn’t. So we’re not going to overreact to it, but we’re going to get better from it.

“We have to improve. You have to win your home games. To have opportunities and not take advantage of them, that second half of football, we have to be much, much better than that.”

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It’s no secret what the defense needs to do to become the unit the Packers feels it’s capable of being. The blueprint was laid out since the summer. It’s going to take big plays, turnovers, sure tackling and an ability to get off the field consistently on third downs.

While the Packers have had their moments in all four of those areas this season, they weren’t able to do enough to keep pace with New Orleans’ high-octane offense down the stretch during Sunday’s 26-17 loss at Lambeau Field.

The Saints, who entered as the NFL’s fourth-ranked scoring offense, produced 485 total yards against Green Bay, converting on 8-of-15 third downs and winning the battle for time of possession (36:56-23:04).

“We have to play better,” safety

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix  said. “We have to find a way to get off the field on third down. That hurt us a lot today. We’ll look at the film (Monday) and figure out what we can work on to get better and go from there.”

For all the things that didn’t go Green Bay’s way in the second half, the defense couldn’t have gotten off to a much better start against the Saints.Cornerbacks Damarious Randall and Davon House  each picked off New Orleans’ 10-time Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees to end the Saints’ opening two series. Heading into Sunday, Brees had only thrown two picks in his first 183 passes this season.

Randall, who has an interception in each of the Packers’ last three games, halted New Orleans’ opening drive with a pick in Green Bay’s end zone for a touchback before House then pulled in a ball down the sideline intended for Michael Thomas.

House has missed three games this year due to a lingering quad injury, but said he came through fine in his first extended action since the opener against Seattle.

“I played maybe 80 percent, 85 percent, so it was good to know how good I did and was able to play at a high level,” House said. “To know I did that at 85 percent, I’m excited to see what I can bring to the table when I’m 100.”

Green Bay’s defense conceded 225 total yards in the first half, but only gave up seven points on the scoreboard in forcing the Saints to punt twice in the second quarter.

The second half was another story. The Saints scored on the opening series off a 22-yard pass from Brees to receiver Brandon Coleman, and then capped their next two series with Wil Lutz field goals to take a 19-17 lead with 10:21 left in the game.

The Packers, down to one inside linebacker (Blake Martinez , were forced to stay in their sub-packages on a critical series with 8:25 left, which ended with Brees sneaking in a 1-yard touchdown to pull ahead by two scores.

The one-two backfield punch of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara produced 217 total yards, with receiver Ted Ginn Jr. leading the Saints with seven catches for 141 yards.

“The first half I thought we got after them pretty well,” said linebacker Clay Matthews, who had three tackles (one for a loss). “But unfortunately in the second half, it was night and day. We obviously didn’t hold up our end of the bargain and gave up way too many big plays.

“It was just simple mistakes that they took advantage of when you have guys like their quarterback and running back. It was just too much, too much.”

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When the Green Bay Packers signed Jahri Evans this offseason, they thought they were getting a dependable veteran to fill the void left by right guard T.J. Lang in free agency.

They never imagined he’d be one of only two Packers offensive linemen who hasn’t had to miss time because of an injury. How bad would things be if Evans and center Corey Linsey had been unable to play every snap, as they’ve done through six games this season?

Evans, 34 and in his 12th NFL season, has been a stabilizing force in an unstable situation. The Packers have started a different offensive line combination in each of their six games this season, and they haven’t had one group play together for even 90 plays this season.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, no five-man unit for the Packers has played more than 89 snaps together this season. That group, from left tackle to right tackle, was Kyle Murphy, Lane Taylor Linsley, Evans and Justin McCray. Murphy went on injured reserve on Sept. 26 and subsequently underwent foot surgery.

There are a total of 44 O-line units league-wide with more snaps than the Packers’ most-used group.

“Jahri, he’s been excellent for us. He’s been a good fit from Day 1,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “[He] brings a lot of experience, a lot of professionalism, excellent football player, so as you look at the offensive line, the cohesiveness of those guys playing together, it’s so important. The moving parts we’ve had due to injury, I think Jahri and Corey being steadfast in there, there’s a lot of stable production.”

This week, three of the Packers’ five offensive line starters are on the injury report. One of them, Taylor, hasn’t practiced yet this week because of an ankle injury. The other two, left tackle David Bakhtiari (hamstring) and right tackle Bryan Bulaga (concussion), have been limited practice participants.

And yet there’s Evans, cast off by the Saints after last season, ready to show his old team that he still can play when New Orleans comes to Lambeau Field on Sunday.

“I guess I do definitely want to show them that I can still play, [that] I’m still an elite player,” Evans said.

“Obviously there’s people in that building that don’t think I’m the same player that I was, and that’s fine. It comes with age. I feel like I’m still an elite player in this game and I prepare like that. I try to show that in every play. It’s going to be fun.”

Evans’ experience could be especially valuable now without quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the Packers huddle. With Brett Hundley to make his first NFL start on Sunday, he’ll have a right guard with 175 regular-season starts to his credit.

“Jahri’s a stud, love Jahri,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees told reporters this week. “Every guy in this locker room does. He was such a big part of our success in the past 11 years. Wish him nothing but the best. It will be funny to see him in a Green Bay uniform after being here his whole career. But he’s the best.”

The Packers will need the line to play even better for Hundley. Through six games, Rodgers and Hundley have been pressured on 32 percent of their dropbacks, sixth-highest in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Hundley was pressured on 45 percent of his dropbacks last Sunday against the Vikings after Rodgers broke his collarbone.

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Vince Biegel isn’t trying to make up for five missed months in just a couple of practices, and the Green Bay Packers don’t appear inclined to throw their 2017 fourth-round pick into action right away.

Biegel returned to practice this week — the earliest possible time for a player on the physically unable to perform list. It was the first time he put on a helmet and pads since he underwent foot surgery in May.

The Packers hope the outside linebacker from Wisconsin can help them at some point this season, but don’t expect it to be this week against the New Orleans Saints. Biegel could practice for three weeks before the Packers have to either activate him off PUP and add him to the roster or place him on injured reserve.

“I think that’s a coaches’ decision, whether they want to take the full three weeks with me,” Biegel said. “I’m mentally preparing to play this week. Now if they decide to activate me this week, that’s an upstairs decision. I’m going to continue to prepare like I have been these last six weeks. And over the six weeks I’ve been preparing to play against the Saints. Whether that’s this week or whether that after the bye week on Monday Night Football with Detroit, I’ll be ready for that moment.”

Coach Mike McCarthy didn’t sound inclined to throw Biegel into the mix this week.

“I think you have to look at the whole thing, the type of injury, what he’s gone through and what he’s done to this point,” McCarthy said Thursday. “I think it’s important to get on the field and practice and evaluate that, not only how he does in the football structure but how his body reacts through the first couple of weeks. I think it’s a normal process that all these guys go through when they first get on the field.”

Vince Biegel (45) practiced in pads for the first time in his NFL career. He remains on PUP but the fourth-round pick’s recovery from May foot surgery appears to be complete.

Before this week, Biegel had yet to practice with the full squad. He worked during the rookie camp in May before he experienced an issue with his right foot — the same foot that needed surgery last fall during his senior year with the Badgers.

“Obviously, a long way to go,” Biegel said. “I still have a long way to knock off the rust. But it really did feel good to be out there and have a healthy practice under my belt.”

The Packers picked Biegel at No. 108 overall — the first pick of the fourth round. It was a selection they acquired from the Browns when the Packers traded their first-round pick (No. 29 overall) to Cleveland. Many thought the Packers would use their first-round pick on Biegel’s former college teammate, outside linebacker T.J. Watt, who ended up going one spot later to the Steelers. Watt has played in five of six games this season and has 3.0 sacks.

In bypassing Watt and trading their first-round pick, the Packers were able to get two players: cornerback Kevin King at No. 33 (with the second-round pick acquired from Cleveland) and Biegel. Only King has been able to make an impact this season, but Biegel is holding out hope that will change.

“That’s why they drafted me, to be an impact player, to make plays for this team,” Biegel said. “That’s the expectations I have for myself and that’s what I plan on doing moving forward. Obviously, I haven’t played football in six-plus months here, so being able to go out there, move around, work on some of my handwork and being able to knock off some of that rust is what it’s all about. It might not be this week, but I know as practice goes along I’m going to continue to get better and better as time goes on. I definitely have a long way to go, but I’m excited for that.”