Packers getting another important piece back as OLB Whitney Mercilus returns to practice

The good news on the injury front keeps rolling in for the Green Bay Packers.

When the team hit the field for practice Thursday, there was Whitney Mercilus going through drills with the rest of the outside linebackers. The veteran tore his left bicep against Seattle in mid-November and was thought to be done for the season. But with him practicing, it means the Packers have designated him for return from injured reserve.

Mercilus played in four games for Green Bay and was seeing roughly 45-percent of the defensive snaps. He was having his best game against the Seahawks, recording one sack and had quarterback Russell Wilson in his grasp for a second one when the injury happened.

Defensive coordinator Joe Barry said they learned early this week that Mercilus was making progress in his rehab but he didn’t think the 31-year-old would be back on the field this soon.

“You talk about a pro and an incredible leader, just an incredible guy,” Barry said after practice Thursday. “He’s been saying since the night that he got hurt, he’s like, ‘I’m going to be back. I’m coming back. I promise you, I’m coming back.’ He’s worked his tail off to get to where he’s at.”

The former Houston Texans standout was the second addition to outside linebacker room this week, as two-time Pro Bowl selection Za’Darius Smith also returned to practice for the first time since undergoing back surgery after Green Bay’s Week 1 loss to New Orleans.

“He looks great,” Barry said. “I think he’s in a great place.

“We’re going to go out and get another day’s work with the guys (Friday), so I think this weekend obviously will be big him for specifically on just how his body feels and how his body reacts to three days of work.”

Those two join an all-star cast of important players returning from long absences. Left tackle David Bakhtiari (knee) played for the first time all year against Detroit, while center Josh Myers (knee) was back for the first time since Week 6. Cornerback Jaire Alexander (shoulder) has practiced on a regular basis for the last month, while wide receiver Randall Cobb (core muscle surgery) has taken part the last two weeks. Right tackle Billy Turner (knee) missed the last four games of the season but was back at practice on a limited basis this week.

Only two players on the active roster didn’t practice at all Thursday — wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling and cornerback Chandon Sullivan. Valdes-Scantling left the Detroit game with a back injury, while Sullivan exited with a knee injury.