Two weeks ago, Green Bay Packers safety Sean Richardson said he walked to his locker every morning in hopes that his helmet would be there.
That, he said, would be the green light that he’s been cleared to practice.
On Wednesday, his helmet was waiting for him.
“It was great. It was a blessing. It’s been a long journey,” Richardson said while wearing a wide smile. “To finally get back out there, it felt like I was a kid again. Guys were asking me how I felt. I said I felt like a kid at a candy store. It was great.”
Richardson sustained a neck injury against the Giants while covering a kickoff on Nov. 25 of last season. He needed fusion surgery to mend a herniated disc. Richardson, speaking in June, was optimistic that he’d be cleared for the start of training camp. Instead, Richardson was put on the physically unable to perform list. He waited and waited, then waited some more. At times, he talked like a man fully prepared to walk away from the game because of the injury.
“It was a possibility but I always kept faith and stayed positive,” Richardson said. “Couldn’t have done it without the support I had. It’s a great feeling. It’s great to be back out there on the field.”
For Richardson, it had been 50 weeks since he put on his helmet and practiced with his teammates.
“It went well,” he said. “I feel great. A little rusty. Got to iron out the kinks but, overall, it was great.”
Also cleared to practice from the PUP list was second-year defensive lineman Jerel Worthy, who tore his ACL during the Week 17 game at Minnesota last year.
How eager was Worthy?
“He jumped offsides twice, so I knew he was back,” coach Mike McCarthy said with a laugh.
“Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah. I had one,” Worthy said with a smile. “I felt I had one, but I’m just trying to get back into the rhythm of my game. My knee felt strong, my get-off and everything was there. I just got to get my footwork down, it’s going to take a week or so to get myself back to how I was, as far as moving around and running, I feel like I felt better than I did last year.”
Richardson and Worthy began practicing with a week to spare. During the offseason, the league changed the PUP rules. Before, players on PUP had until the end of Week 9 to begin practicing. Now, players have until the end of Week 11 (Nov. 19, in this case). With Richardson and Worthy back on the practice field, the Packers will have 21 days (Dec. 3, in this case) to add one or both to the active roster, place on injured reserve or grant their release.
“It's great to have them on the field,” McCarthy said. “These guys haven't been on the field for quite some time. I know it was refreshing for them both. They're excited. We've just got to go through these couple of weeks and make sure they're right. This is clearly a medical hurdle that both these guys can get over and they were good young players the last time they were on the field for us. I'm hopeful that we can get through this process.”
That’s especially true for Richardson considering the delicate nature of neck injuries.
“It was great to see him out there,” McCarthy said. “You've got to remember, you've got to walk by these guys every day, 'How you doin'?' 'Not very well, Coach. I've been on PUP for a year.’ Just the rehab and all the training these guys have gone through, in their minds they've been ready for probably two months. But it was the right thing to do with both guys, just to make sure that they were 100 percent when their opportunity comes, because you don't want to put anybody out there too early.”
Packers injury report
Did not participate: T Don Barclay (knee), CB Casey Hayward (hamstring), DT Johnny Jolly (groin), DE/OLB Mike Neal (abdomen), OLB Nick Perry (foot/ankle), QB Aaron Rodgers (collarbone). Limited: C Evan Dietrich-Smith (knee), OLB Andy Mulumba (ankle), DT Ryan Pickett (knee). Full: OLB Clay Matthews (thumb).
McCarthy said Neal is “kind of beat up” and “probably won’t practice this week. Barclay should be ready for Thursday once a brace arrives.
Matthews didn’t wear his club-cast at practice. The size of the cast needed for the games should decrease.
Giants injury report
Did not participate: RB Brandon Jacobs (hamstring/knee), TE Bear Pascoe (ankle), DE Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder), CB Terrell Thomas (knee), CB Corey Webster (groin/ankle).
— McCarthy, on Aaron Rodgers’ role as a teacher and mentor to quarterback Scott Tolzien: “Great players make other players better, and that's what you witness with Aaron Rodgers. He makes his team better, he makes his teammates better and, more importantly, he cares. Everybody talks about winning. Everybody wants to win. But he illustrates it with every opportunity he's given. I feel like every time you ask me a question, I say all these great things about him. I don't like his mustache, so I'll say something bad about him.”
— Tolzien, on Rodgers’ role as teacher: “He’s been tremendous. Aaron, Seneca (Wallace), Matt (Flynn), the coaches, they’ve all been a huge help. I really value the things they have to say because they’ve been there before. Seneca’s been there before, Aaron’s obviously been there before, and even Matt’s been in this situation before, so I do draw on them and respect and definitely take merit to their thoughts and opinions.”
— The agent for injured tight end Jermichael Finley toldPro Football Talk that Finley would be undergoing neck surgery based on “countless hours” of conversations with experts.
— The Packers filled their active roster by signing running back Orwin Smith. He replaces Michael Hill, who was signed off the practice squad to Tampa Bay’s active roster. Smith rushed for 1,839 yards, averaged 9.3 yards per carry and scored 20 touchdowns during his career at Georgia Tech.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.