Who Will Fill In for Muhammad Wilkerson?
Just days after we wondered how the Packers would handle the inevitable injuries when they arose, banged up players have arrived in droves.
Nick Perry is in the concussion protocol, weakening an already thin outside linebacker group. Bryan Bulaga is battling a balky back, diminishing the weaker side of the Packers’ offensive line even more. Both figure to be at least somewhat in doubt for next Sunday’s game at Lambeau Field.
The difference, though, is both Perry and Bulaga could return this season. That’s not the case for defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson, who will reportedly miss the rest of the season after leaving Sunday’s loss to the Washington Redskins in the second quarter with a leg injury.
Wilkerson, the second biggest of Brian Gutekunst’s free agent signings this offseason, was a reliable rotational presence on defense so far this year. Even if the raw numbers didn’t show it, Wilkerson was there, eating up snaps on the defense’s position group. Through two games, he’d played more snaps than Mike Daniels.
Those snaps will have to go somewhere now, and fortunately for the Packers there are in-house candidates to fill the void.
Dean Lowry’s versatility could pay dividends
The first and most likely option to replace Wilkerson is Dean Lowry, whose 24 snaps Sunday were a season high. Lowry played starter’s reps last season, appearing for 44% or more of the snaps in all but five games.
His relatively low snap counts so far this season probably shouldn’t be read as an indictment of his skills so much as a reflection of the quality ahead of him on the depth chart. Lowry played every spot on the line in Dom Capers’ defense and he figures to do much the same with Mike Pettine.
Lowry’s success comes mainly from his extremely underrated athleticism. Lowry tested among the best at his position prior to the 2016 NFL Draft and he’s used that ability to find a rotational home in Green Bay. It’ll be interesting to see what he does in more extensive playing time.
Montravius Adams needs to take a step up
Montravius Adams has been a bit of a tease through his NFL career so far. His rookie season was lost to what amounted to a medical redshirt after an early surgery, but veterans raved about his practice performance prior to the injury.
This season, Adams showed some of the reason for that praise in actual game action, showing strength and burst when he got on the field.
But in a similar vein to Lowry, Adams hasn’t managed to get on the field much this season in part because of the quality ahead of him. Adams had played just eight snaps through two games before picking up an additional five on Sunday. If there’s ever an opportunity to pick up some playing time, it’s now.
Who will be the corresponding roster move?
With Wilkerson likely headed to injured reserve, the Packers will have a roster spot to fill. If they want to stay with five defensive linemen, there are two in-house candidates for the job.
2018 seventh-round pick James Looney and mountainous undrafted free agent Tyler Lancaster both are available on the practice squad if the Packers choose to make a move there.
Looney, a terrific athlete lacking a well-defined position, could be the more ready-made solution. Mike Pettine has shown an increased propensity to use smaller players (like Reggie Gilbert) as his 3-technique rusher on passing downs and Looney could fill that role, especially with the Packers hurting at outside linebacker. If the Packers are looking for a spot player, Looney could be the short-term solution.
Lancaster would represent a more traditional option. His size puts more in the mold of a nose tackle, which isn’t a 1-to-1 replacement for Wilkerson. Still, his athleticism makes him interesting, if a little unrefined.
There’s also the possibility that the Packers go outside the organization. If so, Joey Mbu could be a name to watch. He spent time with the Packers in training camp and could be a little bit further down his developmental path than either Looney or Lancaster.