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PFT Preseason Power Rankings No. 27: New York Jets

Mark Sanchez, Geno Smith AP

This could be Rex Ryan’s last stand.

Ryan survived a purge this offseason that claimed a general manager, both coordinators and several veteran players, including cornerback Darrelle Revis, but there’s not much strength to his position. General Manager John Idzik will surely be using this year to evaluate whether or not he can or wants to work with Ryan in the future. Ryan hasn’t been given a cupboard stocked with talent to use to make his case, which doesn’t do much to build confidence that he’ll be back in 2014.

One of the biggest questions the Jets need to answer is whether Mark Sanchez will get one more chance as the starting quarterback or if Geno Smith will grab the job without looking back. Self-preservation normally means going with the vet, but Ryan may be able to build a better argument for himself if Smith plays well enough to give hope that he’s the long-term answer at the position.

Even if that happens, a winning record might be a stretch for a team that hasn’t replaced enough of the talent that helped them to consecutive AFC Championship Games in 2009 and 2010.

Strengths.

Revis is gone, but the Jets still have a very good cornerback at their disposal in Antonio Cromartie. He sometimes gained more notice for his progeny and his run support allergy early in his career, but Cromartie was excellent in 2012 as the top corner after Revis fore his ACL even as the team crumbled around him. He’ll be back in that role this year and there’s no reason to think he won’t thrive once again.

Muhammad Wilkerson isn’t the flashiest player in the league. He’s awfully effective, though, and stood out as one of the top three or four 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL last season. More growth will give the Jets defense an anchor that they hope to mirror on the other side of the line with 2013 first-rounder Sheldon Richardson.

Jeremy Kerley set an NFL record with 36 fair catches as a punt returner last year, so you can definitely count fair catches in the strength column.

Too backhanded? Fair enough. For all his foibles, Ryan has always been able to put together competitive defenses and he’ll likely be able to do the same with this year’s group. As for the other side of the ball…

Weaknesses.

You can choose the epithet you like, but we’ll go with horror show for the 2012 offense. They scored 281 points all year and turned the ball over 37 times, which is why Marty Mornhinweg is now the coordinator and why Smith was taken in the second round. They made changes at running back and on the offensive line, but the receiver group is heavily reliant on Santonio Holmes getting healthy, Stephen Hill improving rapidly and Kellen Winslow Jr. rebounding. None is a bet you’d want to make with the mortgage payment.

Of course, it wouldn’t help all that much if Calvin Johnson and Jimmy Graham were running patterns as long as the Jets don’t get at least average play from their quarterback. There are no guarantees that either Sanchez or Smith will provide it.

In Ryan’s first couple of years, the Jets were able to disguise their lack of an elite pass rusher with a variety of packages and blitzes that relied on having a shutdown corner on one side to confound offenses. That wasn’t the case last year and the lack of Revis means it may not be the case this year, which is troubling because they are still missing that special player off the edge. They signed Antwan Barnes in hopes he’s over last year’s hamstring issues and moved Quinton Coples from defensive end in hopes of finding something close to one.

Mike Tannenbaum is gone from the front office, but the roster continues to bear his thumbprints. Developing players was put on the back burner in favor of going with expensive vets. Clearing out those older players this offseason has left them without players who may not be ready to step into bigger roles and short on cap space to bring in quality replacements.

Changes.

We’ve already mentioned Tannenbaum’s ouster, Idzik’s hiring, Smith’s arrival and the Revis trade. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, though.

Shonn Greene was bid a less-than-fond farewell and replaced at running back by Chris Ivory and Mike Goodson, who at least assured the Jets some more unsavory headlines thanks to his offseason arrest. Dustin Keller signed with the Dolphins, giving Winslow a chance to resume his career after playing just one game in 2012.

Braylon Edwards remains unsigned, although there are intermittent indications that the Jets would be up for a third go-round with the wide receiver. The Jets will have two new starting guards, with Brandon Moore and Matthew Slauson leaving and Willie Colon, Stephen Peterman and rookie Brian Winters arriving.

On defense, the Jets said goodbye to defensive end Mike DeVito, defensive tackle Sione Pouha and linebackers Bryan Thomas and Bart Scott, leaving them with several holes to fill. Demario Davis will be expected to step in for Scott, which could wind up as an upgrade given the step that Scott clearly lost in recent years.

Safeties LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell played well last season. Eric Smith didn’t, but he’s gone too and the Jets are left with Dawan Landry and untested Josh Bush as their prospective starters at safety.

Some fellow named Tim Tebow, who saw most of his action on the punt team, was also released this offseason. Smaller story, but we’re sure you’ve been following it.

Camp Battles.

The Sanchez/Smith competition will be the headline grabber, but there are plenty of other things to watch when the Jets gather this summer. Colon is ticketed for one guard spot, but Peterman, Winters and Vladimir Ducasse will compete for snaps at guard with Ducasse a strong candidate for release if he can’t show more than he has through his first three seasons.

Ninth overall pick Dee Milliner and Kyle Wilson are both options to start across from Cromartie. Wilson is better suited for nickel work, so the rookie should get the job if he’s healthy.

Calvin Pace was re-signed after being released and could wind up starting at outside linebacker if Coples can’t handle the transition or if Barnes is a better fit in a situational role. 2011 third-round pick Kenrick Ellis will battle Damon Harrison and veteran Antonio Garay to replace Pouha on the nose.

Prospects.

There’s a fair chance that the Jets won’t be as bad as most people think.

Unfortunately for the Jets, not being as bad as conventional wisdom isn’t the same thing as being good. When you look at the talent on the roster, predicting much more than last year’s 6-10 finish is very difficult and a drop to the bottom of the barrel is hardly unthinkable.

If that happens, Ryan and Sanchez will almost certainly be gone and the Jets will turn the page on an era that started with a lot of sound and fury before ultimately adding up to nothing all that different than the other seasons that have followed Joe Namath’s guarantee made good.

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Jake Locker says he won’t pout about being benched

Jake Locker AP

Titans quarterback Jake Locker isn’t happy about getting benched. But he’s going to try to keep his chin up.

It’s frustrating. It’s not the way you draw it up obviously,” Locker said, via 24/7 Sports. “But I don’t think you can dwell on it either. It doesn’t do anybody any good to pout about it, so I’m just gonna go forward as is now and do my part to be a productive member of this football team.”

Locker said he’ll do his best to help the man who has taken his job, rookie Zach Mettenberger.

“You want to be on the field and you want to play, but I understand that’s my role as a part of this team now. Zach was that teammate to me and I plan to do the same thing for him, help him to be as prepared as possible, as ready as possible every Sunday when he steps on the field,” Locker said.

That’s all Locker can do now. That, and wait until March, when he’ll be a free agent and can put his disappointing tenure in Tennessee behind him.

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Ronnie Hillman limited again on Thursday with shoulder injury

Hillman Getty Images

Ronnie Hillman has 283 yards rushing in Denver’s last three games.  Whether he gets a chance to build on that remains in doubt, to some degree.

Via Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com, Hillman was limited again in practice with a shoulder injury that he suffered on Wednesday.  Hillman has said that he’ll play on Sunday in New England.

If Hillman can’t carry the load on Sunday, that likely will mean more opportunities for rookie Juwan ThompsonMontee Ball remains out of practice with a groin injury.

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Eli Manning: You can’t just throw it deep and think it’s a solution

Eli Manning AP

Giants General Manager Jerry Reese said this week that the team needs to be more aggressive on offense than they’ve been while compiling a 3-4 record.

Reese’s comments come at a time when Eli Manning is completing 64.9 percent of his passes and on a pace to throw 11 interceptions, which is exactly the kind of play that the Giants spent all offseason saying they wanted to see from the offense installed by offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. It’s come with a drop in his yards per attempt and the team hasn’t made many big plays at all, but, again, that’s the offense they seemed to want during the offseason.

Reese said that Manning is playing “pretty well,” but also suggested that the quarterback is too cautious because you have to throw the ball down the field to win. Manning has a different take on the situation.

“You can’t just start throwing it deep and [think] that’s the solution,” Manning said, via Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News.

Setting aside the issue of the tenets of the offensive scheme that McAdoo installed, Manning spent a lot of time trying to throw it deep behind an offensive line that couldn’t block last season and paid the price for it. The line’s had some better moments this season, but they’ve been less effective the last two weeks and the loss of Victor Cruz has taken away one of the players Manning liked to look for down the field. Rookie Odell Beckham appears able to pick up some of the slack in that department, but the line will need to be more consistent and the offense will have to be crisper across the board if those plays are going to open up for the Giants in the second half.

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Bruce Carter breaks finger in practice, expects to play Sunday

NFL Football-Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys Getty Images

Cowboys linebacker Bruce Carter can’t seem to stay healthy this season.

Carter just returned after missing three games with a groin injury and now he’s dealing with a broken left ring finger. Carter broke the finger when it got caught in the pads of running back Lance Dunbar at practice on Thursday, but expects to play against the Cardinals this weekend after having a splint put on by a doctor on Friday.

That should work out well for the Cowboys as they’ll already have to replace at least one starting linebacker on Sunday. Justin Durant was lost for the season with a torn biceps muscle and losing Carter as well would force Dallas reach deeper into their reserves as they try to avoid their first losing streak of the season. They also have some cause for concern about middle linebacker Rolando McClain because of a sore shoulder, although McClain was able to practice Thursday after missing Wednesday’s session.

“I think for everybody, all the linebackers, everybody has to step up,” Carter said, via ESPNDallas.com. “Everybody’s role gets a lot better so we got to really prepare well. Me, Rolando, all the younger guys we really got to step up because Justin was a huge part of our defense and we’re really going to miss him. But everybody has to step up.”

On the other side of the ball, left guard Ron Leary and right tackle Doug Free both missed practice. So did quarterback Tony Romo, although his ability to practice doesn’t appear to have much bearing on whether or not he’ll play this week.

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Seahawks to put Walter Jones in Ring of Honor on Sunday

WalterJones Getty Images

As the Seahawks return to CenturyLink Field after a two-week road trip, it’s officially homecoming weekend in Seattle.  They’ll commemorate the occasion by unveiling an 11th member of the team’s Ring of Honor.

The Seahawks have announced that 2014 Hall of Famer Walter Jones will join a group that already includes Steve Largent, Jim Zorn, Dave Brown, Pete Gross, Curt Warner, Jacob Green, Kenny Easley, Dave Krieg, Chuck Knox, and Cortez Kennedy.

Jones spent 13 years with the Seahawks, from 1997 through 2009.  He starter 180 games during his career with the team, and he made it to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

Jones’ No. 71 previously has been retired by the Seahawks.  Largent’s No. 80, Kennedy’s No. 96, and No. 12 (in honor of the fans) also have been retired.

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Doctors advise team medical staffs to be more vigilant about concussions

Doctor Getty Images

As expected, the NFL is launching an effort to improve the spotting of concussions.  The first step?  A memo telling team medical staffs to do a better job of spotting concussions.

PFT has obtained a copy of the memo that has been sent to team doctors and head athletic trainers reminding them to continue to ensure that the steps developed to identify concussions are observed and respected.  Alex Marvez of FOX Sports first reported the existence of the memo.

“We have generally been pleased with the care provided to players who have suffered concussions in both the preseason and during the first part of the regular season,” the memo states.  “That said, there remain occasional examples of where more care can be given to adhering to the relevant protocols.  The success of concussion prevention and treatment depends on team medical staffs, the players, and independent experts remaining diligent, working together and adhering to the mandated evaluation and treatment protocols that have been developed with the assistance of so many of you.”

The memo was written jointly by Dr. Hunt Batjer, Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, Dr. Matthew Matava, and Dr. Thom Mayer. Dr. Batjer and Dr. Elllenbogen chair the NFL’s head, neck, and spine committee.  Dr. Matava, the Rams’ team physical, serves as president of the NFL Physicians Society.  Dr. Mayer is the NFLPA’s medical director.

“Every concussion is a serious injury and must be treated conservatively,” the memo states.  “All concussion symptoms must be taken seriously, by medical staffs and players alike.  All suspected concussions must be investigated either with the Maddock’s test or the full NFL sideline exam.  Each possible injury must be investigated aggressively, aided by the athletic trainer monitor and shared through the communication and video system on each sideline.”

The memo also acknowledges the reality that players may be inclined to conceal potential concussions.

“We are also aware of reports suggesting that players may not always report their symptoms and may seek to avoid being examined for a possible concussion,” the memo states.  “Please remind your players of the need to be candid with the medical staffs and with one another.  In this respect, you should emphasize that the NFLPA supports the concussion protocols and that players should never hide, deny or attempt to minimize their symptoms.  That said, concussed players by definition have a brain injury, so close attention to mechanism of injury and subtle findings is necessary, as well as input from their fellow players, who may note subtle differences in performance or behavior.”

Attached to the memo were copies of existing documents regarding the management and treatment of concussions and the role of the Unaffiliated Neurotrauma Consultant.

As PFT reported over the weekend, last week’s failure to spot a concussion suffered by Chargers safety Jahleel Addae angered Hall of Fame coach John Madden, prompting an effort to explore current procedures aimed at identifying players who may have suffered a concussion.  Presumably, Madden expects steps more extensive and pointed than a memo reminding doctors and athletic trainers to do that which some of them periodically are failing to do.

But it’s a good start.

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Lovie Smith: 1-6 is what Bucs are, but eventually we’ll be better

Lovie Smith AP

Lovie Smith has won just one of his first seven games as the Buccaneers’ head coach, but he says things are changing in Tampa Bay.

Asked if his team is where he wants it to be, Smith answered, “The 1-6 record isn’t. It’s what it is. If the season stopped right now, that’s where we are. Numbers don’t lie. But behind the scenes, you can see they’re pointed in the right direction.”

During Smith’s previous stint as a head coach, in Chicago, he lost five of his first six games with the Bears. But after a 1-5 start that year, the Bears promptly turned things around with a three-game winning streak, and the Bears were a playoff team in Smith’s second season and in the Super Bowl at the end of Smith’s third season. He thinks the same can happen in Tampa.

“I do have a history of being in situations like this, and that’s why it’s fun now to talk about how we came back then,” he said. “I believe we can do it again. . . . Behind the scenes we’re becoming a better football team and eventually winning will become a habit for us.”

Smith noted that even at 1-6, the Bucs aren’t far out of first place in the NFC South. Every other team in the division has a losing record, too, with the 3-4-1 Panthers and 3-4 Saints meeting tonight and the 2-6 Falcons off this week.

“Football doesn’t really begin until November,” Smith said. “Two games out of first place, as I see it.”

Realistically, it’s almost impossible to picture this year’s Bucs being a division winner — even in a division as bad as this year’s NFC South. But Smith does have a track record of making a bad team better.

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Too early for Colts to know if Reggie Wayne will play

Cincinnati Bengals v Indianapolis Colts Getty Images

Wide receiver Reggie Wayne didn’t practice on Thursday, but coach Chuck Pagano said that doesn’t mean that he won’t play against the Giants on Monday night.

Pagano said, via Mike Chappell of WRTV, it is “too early in week” to decide about whether Wayne’s elbow injury has healed enough for him to return to the lineup this week. Wayne missed the Week Eight loss to the Steelers, the first time that he was out of the lineup this season.

Wayne has usually rested on the first practice day of the week this season and Pagano indicated that was at least part of the reason why Wayne didn’t practice when he said he wanted to see Wayne in practice the next two days before deciding on his status.

Running back Trent Richardson and cornerback Vontae Davis both practiced and both players look to be on track to play their usual roles on Sunday. Davis left last week’s game early with a knee injury and Richardson dressed but didn’t play while dealing with a hamstring injury.

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George McCaskey: Fans have every right to be upset with Bears

Zach Moore, Jay Cutler AP

The Bears have a bye this week, so they won’t have to face the possibility of incurring more wrath from their fans for losing a fifth game in their last six tries.

The last time the Bears played at home, they heard plenty of boos from their fans while losing a game to the Dolphins and guard Kyle Long reacted angrily toward the people paying to watch him play football. Bears chairman George McCaskey was asked about that during an appearance on CSN Chicago and thinks that the team’s play this season has justified the response.

“They have every right to be [upset],” McCaskey said. “We’re 3-5. That’s a losing record. We’re winless at home and that doesn’t fit the formula for making it to the postseason. You’ve got to dominate at home. You’ve got to control your division and you’ve got to do pretty well for yourself on the road. We’re outside that formula right now and we need to correct that.”

McCaskey said he’s “very disappointed” in the 3-5 start for a team that “everybody in the building was expecting this team to contend for a Super Bowl,” adding that he is interested now in seeing how the team reacts to adversity. McCaskey said he has “every confidence” that General Manager Phil Emery, coach Marc Trestman and the players will have a successful response. Left unsaid are the possible repercussions if they again fail to meet the bar that ownership’s set for the team, but such reading can be done between the lines.

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Chargers getting a little healthier, which they almost couldn’t help

New York Jets v San Diego Chargers Getty Images

The Chargers might not have cornerback Jason Verrett back for a few weeks or longer, but they are starting to get some guys healthier.

According to Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego, the Chargers welcomed back cornerback Brandon Flowers (concussion), outside linebacker Jerry Attaochu (hamstring) and center Rich Ohrnberger (back) to practice .

Getting Flowers back is huge for the Chargers, especially because Verrett’s status is so up in the air. Flowers hadn’t practiced since suffering his concussion Oct. 19 against the Chiefs.

But the Chargers have had a revolving door at center as well, and get any kind of stability there is going to help.

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Chip Kelly wants no involvement with player injuries

Miyagi

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones isn’t a doctor, but he sometimes plays one on his team’s sideline.  And elsewhere.  Eagles coach Chip Kelly has no desire to do that.

Asked on Thursday why Kelly takes a hands-off approach to injuries, the coach was pragmatic.

“Because I’m not a doctor, so ‑‑ I mean, I think that’s simple,” Kelly told reporters.  “I can’t tell the guy, you know, ‘You’re this, you’re that.’  Just tell me who can play and who can’t play.  I think people waste a lot of time on things that you don’t control.

“No, I don’t control injuries; so, if someone can play, the doctors and the medical staff here I think are outstanding.   They tell me who can and who can’t.  For me to weigh in on it is ludicrous.  What am I going to ‑‑ what position could I take?  ‘Dr. [Peter] DeLuca, I see it this way.’  It’s kind of stupid, right?”

So why does Kelly want detailed info about player sleep habits and nutrition but not detailed injury information?

“Because I can’t affect that,” Kelly said.  “I can affect their sleep patterns.  I can’t affect their injury, though.  If a guy tore a muscle ‑‑ I’m not Dr. Miyagi.  I can’t put my hands together, rub them together, touch his leg and make him better.  Just tell me who can play, who can’t play.  I’m really good at what we can control and what we can’t control, and we can’t control that.  So let’s go play.”

He’s right, to an extent.  Sometimes a stern talking-to from the coach transforms an injured player into a guy who can play.  Because sometimes a guy doesn’t feel like playing and is looking for a way to avoid it.

Of course, that problem can be addressed by having the right guys on the roster — guys who won’t milk an injury to avoid practice or games.  Even then, Kelly apparently wouldn’t do anything about it.

“We never force a player to play here,” Kelly said.  “I can’t turn around and tell a rookie, ‘I know you think it feels like this, but it doesn’t.  Go play.'”

The wisdom in Kelly’s approach could be that he trusts the locker room to keep guys honest, policing the roster for anyone who may be embellishing.

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Peterson case moves toward November 4 hearing

Peterson AP

The Ray Rice appeal hearing won’t be the only important legal proceeding on the docket for NFL next week.  On Tuesday, November 4, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson will have a pre-trial hearing in Texas on pending felony charges of child abuse.

With a trial set for December 1 (and amid chatter that lawyer Rusty Hardin will still try to get the trial moved to November 18), the case is moving forward, quickly.  Plenty needs to be done; while many plea bargains happen on the eve of trial, plenty of prosecutors prefer to wrap cases up before investing significant time into preparing for trial.

In the Peterson case, prosecutors could indeed be looking for a way to work things out.  In addition to the challenge of facing Hardin, one of the more accomplished and experienced lawyers in the country, a grand jury originally refused to indict Peterson.  While an indictment eventually came, the inability of the prosecution to secure an indictment while having the stage to itself doesn’t bode well for the prosecution’s ability to secure a conviction under the very high “if it doesn’t fit you must acquit” standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

From Peterson’s perspective, the sooner the charges are resolved, the sooner he can play football.  The only problem is that he doesn’t know what the NFL ultimately would do under the personal conduct policy if he pleads guilty to the pending charge or some lesser included offense.  Already, Peterson has missed seven games with pay; as of Sunday, it will be eight.  A strong argument could be made that time served plus forfeiture of a certain number of the game checks he has received should be the fair outcome.

Regardless of what the league would do, the time is quickly coming for the prosecutors and Peterson to decide whether there will be a trial, or whether there will be a plea bargain.

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Jay Gruden: Barring setbacks, RG3 starts Sunday

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All the signs have been pointing to the return of Robert Griffin III to the starting quarterback job in Washington for this Sunday’s game against the Vikings, but there’s no more reason to read even the most obvious of tea leaves.

Redskins coach Jay Gruden gave up the masquerade game on Thursday and announced at his press conference that Griffin will be the starter as long as he doesn’t have any setbacks with the dislocated ankle that has kept him out of the lineup since Week Two.

“He’s our starter and he gives us the best chance to win,” Gruden said, via Mike Jones of the Washington Post.

Gruden added that Griffin has been medically cleared to play and that there’s no great benefit to holding him out until after the bye week because the team will be off for so much of the time rather than practicing. With Griffin cleared on the physical front, the focus now turns to “getting him ready from a quarterback standpoint.” Based on how Griffin looked pre-injury and in the preseason, there’s ample work to be done on that front. Barring another injury, that work will likely continue throughout the second half of the season.

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Giovani Bernard misses another practice

Cincinnati Bengals v Indianapolis Colts Getty Images

The Bengals look like they have a good chance of getting wide receiver A.J. Green back in the lineup for Sunday’s game against the Jaguars as Green participated in practice again on Thursday.

Green’s return would be a reason for happiness in Cincinnati even with the rest of the lineup in tiptop shape. It could be even more welcome this weekend as the probablity that running back Giovani Bernard will miss the game grows.

Bernard missed a second straight day of practice on Thursday because of the hip injury he suffered against Baltimore last weekend. Geoff Hobson of the team’s website reported Bernard’s absence and added that “you have to figure he’s going to be out” when the Bengals take the field against the Jaguars.

Jeremy Hill would stand to see a spike in playing time and touches if Bernard is indeed out of the lineup this week. Cedric Peermand and Rex Burkhead would be other backfield options for Cincinnati, with Hobson opining that this could be the week for Burkhead, a second-year player, to get his first NFL carry.

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Report: T.J. Lang doesn’t need ankle surgery, hopes to return after bye

Green Bay Packers v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

The Packers lost right guard T.J. Lang to a left ankle injury after the first series of their game against the Saints last Sunday night, but it doesn’t look like that his absence will extend too long as a result.

Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com reports that Lang avoided structural damage when he went down while blocking on the extra point after the Packers Offense opened the game with a touchdown. Per Demovsky, the injury was diagnosed as a sprain and there’s no timetable for his return as yet.

The Packers are on their bye this week, which allows Lang a good chunk of time to recover before the team would need to make a decision about his status for their Week 10 date with the Bears.

Lane Taylor replaced Lang against the Saints and had a bad moment when he got pushed backward on a failed fourth down conversion try by running back Eddie Lacy. Demovsky suggests that J.C. Tretter could also be an option if Lang can’t play. Tretter was set to start at center this year, but landed on injured reserve with the designation to return because of a knee injury. Corey Linsley has done a solid job at center and could remain there even though Tretter is now eligible to return.

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