Packers: LB Preston Smith, two others questionable for Washington game

Things are looking up for the Green Bay Packers on the injury report.

After missing the last two days with an oblique injury, outside linebacker Preston Smith returned to practice Friday on a limited basis. The veteran hasn't missed a game in his career and the Packers will list him as questionable for Sunday's matchup with Washington.

The same goes for two members of the secondary. Cornerback Kevin King (shoulder) practiced on a limited basis for a third straight day, while safety Darnell Savage (concussion) was out there for a second straight day. Unless there is a setback for either guy, they should be good to go Sunday.

Only two players -- center Josh Myers (knee) and tackle Dennis Kelly (back) -- are listed as out for the game.

On Washington's side of things, three players are listed as questionable. That includes running back Antonio Gibson (shin), cornerback William Jackson III (knee) and defensive end Shaka Toney (illness). Four other players -- tackle Sam Cosmi (ankle), wide receiver Curtis Samuel (groin), guard Brandon Scherff (knee) and wide receiver Cam Sims (hamstring) -- are listed as out.


Preview and Predictions: Wisconsin at No. 25 Purdue

THE BASICS

The teams: The Wisconsin Badgers (3-3, 1-2) vs the No. 25 Purdue Boilermakers (4-2, 2-1)

The time: 2 p.m. CDT, Saturday

The place: Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette, Ind.

The TV coverage: The Big Ten Network with Brandon Gaudin and Matt Millen in the booth, and Rick Pizzo on the sideline.

The last time: Jonathan Taylor ran for 222 yards and a touchdown in Wisconsin’s 45-24 victory in 2019.

The series: Wisconsin leads 50-29-8

The line: Wisconsin -3.5

THE BREAKDOWN: 5 THINGS TO WATCH

1) A path opens

Wisconsin has been given a second life in the Big Ten West race thanks to Purdue. The Boilermakers upset of then No. 2 Iowa last week left the division wide open to take.

Several players said the Hawkeyes losing gave the team a bit of a kick in the butt and there was a noticeable change within the locker room. Are those just words and have they given up on the season just like a lot of fans? Or will the Badgers rally from an ugly first half of the season to take advantage of the situation they are in? The preparedness and energy they show on Saturday will give us a clear picture of where exactly their heads are at.

2) Was that the real Purdue?

The Purdue squad everyone saw last week in Iowa City was not the one most had seen in a 3-2 start that included losses to Notre Dame and Minnesota. Yes, the defense had been solid, but they had forced two turnovers the entire season going into last week. Then they went and picked off Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras four times.

The offense has always had a star in David Bell, but they were far from setting the world on fire before last week. It is a group that is averaging 16.6 points per game in Big Ten play.

So, how did they beat Iowa? Well, they flipped the script on the Hawkeyes, who had won all year by not turning it over while their defense had forced a bunch. In the game last week, Purdue was +3 in turnover margin.

Can the Boilermakers repeat that effort against the turnover prone Badgers? You are probably screaming “yes” at your screen, but very little of what Purdue did last week was any kind of season long trend.

3) Dealing with stars

If Wisconsin is going to keep its division hopes alive, it will have to slow Purdue’s stars on both sides of the ball.

On offense, there is Bell. The junior wide receiver was nearly unstoppable against Iowa last week. He finished with 240 yards receiving on 11 catches and one touchdown. It was his fourth game with at least six catches and 120 yards this season. He is averaging 17.9 yards per grab and has the full attention of Wisconsin’s defensive backs and coaching staff.

“Extremely impressive in everything he does,” defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said. “He plays with great patience. He attacks the football. He understands concepts and space and time. He’s really fun to watch. The way they use him, the way they move him, create targets for him and he shows up week in and week out and produces for them. He’s impressive. I love the way he plays.”

Wisconsin faced Bell in 2019 and he had 108 yards receiving, but it took him 12 catches to get there. The starting cornerbacks that day were Faion Hicks and Caesar Williams, the same two guys that will lineup for the Badgers on Saturday. If they, along with nickel back Dean Engram, can handle Bell in a similar fashion, it should be considered a win. Wisconsin’s pass rush could help in that respect, especially against a Purdue offensive line that is allowing 2.5 sacks per game.

Perhaps an even bigger priority is dealing with George Karlaftis. The junior’s stats do not necessarily jump off the page – three sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss – but his presence is felt every game. Just ask Iowa, which had no answer for the defensive end. According to Pro Football Focus, he ended up with 10 quarterback pressures, the most a Hawkeyes line had allowed to a single player since PFF started keeping track.

In the past, Wisconsin has not taken a ton of special measures in dealing with elite defensive linemen. Take Ohio State’s Chase Young for example. In 2019, left tackle Cole Van Lanen was often left to face him one-on-one and the Badgers even inexplicably left tight end Jake Ferguson to block him at times. It resulted in Young racking up four sacks and five tackles for loss.

There may have been a belief going into that game that the offensive line would hold up – the group did end up allowing a total of just 20 sacks that season. But Wisconsin’s line this year has struggled to keep the quarterback clean, especially against good competition. Whichever way Paul Chryst and the offensive staff want to treat him -- whether it is keeping extra guys in to block or having a tight end chip him on the way out on a pass route – they cannot let Karlaftis be the one that beats them.

4) Run, run, run

After a slow start to the season, the Wisconsin running game seems to have found a little bit of momentum the last two weeks. While it is worth noting the competition was not the greatest, they put 391 yards on Illinois and 198 yards on an Army team that came in allowing 64 yards per game.

But Purdue will provide a stiffer challenge for Chez Mellusi, Braelon Allen and their blockers up front. This is not the same Boilermakers defense that has given up an average of 265 yards per game to the Badgers in their last 14 meetings. Under new co-defensive coordinator/play caller Brad Lambert, teams are averaging 114.7 yards per game and 3.4 yards per carry.

This is obvious, but Wisconsin must have success on the ground for any chance to win the game. Getting into third-and-long situations will almost certainly prove disastrous for a Badgers offense that struggles to protect the passer, fails to convert on 68% of their third down opportunities and cannot stop turning the ball over.

5) Need the pass game

Wisconsin needs its passing game to be serviceable at least if it is going to make a run for the division title. Is there any hope it can be? The evidence this season does not inspire confidence.

The Badgers come into the game with the second-fewest pass plays of 30 or more yards (4) in the country and they have just one completion that went for 40-plus yards. But it is not just the chunk plays they are struggling on. Wisconsin’s nine pass plays of 20 or more yards ranks 125th in the nation.

The blame for those struggles can be put a number of places, though quarterback Graham Mertz and the offensive line must take the brunt of it. Against some of the better teams Wisconsin has played, Mertz has not had time in the pocket to throw, often being hit as the ball is coming out. Other times, Mertz has had a clean pocket and just straight up missed throws a quarterback for the Badgers needs to hit.

Purdue presents a new opportunity, though with the Boilermakers pass rush and a secondary flying high after four interceptions last week, it is not exactly an ideal situation to expect things to turn around.

NUMBERS TO CONSIDER

-- The Badgers have won 14 straight games over the Boilermakers, the longest streak for either team in the series. Purdue has not beaten Wisconsin since Oct. 2003, about three months before UW running back Braelon Allen was born.

-- Wisconsin is averaging 2.5 turnovers per game. It is the highest per game average since Barry Alvarez’s first team in 1990 was at 2.7 per game.

-- Wisconsin’s defense is allowing 225.8 yards per game, the second-best mark in the nation. It is also the best number by a UW defense since 1951.

-- The Badgers have allowed a total of three touchdowns in the first three quarters of games this season. Taking away three interceptions and a kickoff returned for scores, the defense has given up six touchdowns in the fourth quarter

ZONE PREDICTIONS

Zach Heilprin's (4-2, 3-3 ATS) prediction: Purdue 24, Wisconsin 10
Ebo's (3-3, 1-5 ATS) prediction: Wisconsin 21, Purdue 17
Nelson Raisbeck's (3-3, 1-5 ATS) prediction: Purdue 21, Wisconsin 17
RJ Brachman's (4-2, 2-3 ATS) prediction: Wisconsin 20, Purdue 17
Ben Kenney's (4-2, 3-3 ATS) prediction: Purdue 24, Wisconsin 14


For Whitney Mercilus, 'all signs led' to Green Bay

When Whitney Mercilus was called into Houston Texans general manager Nick Caserio's office Tuesday, the veteran pass rusher knew what was coming. His time with the only team he'd known since being a first-round pick in 2012 had come to an end. Cut, and able to pick what team he went to for the first time since choosing to play college football at Illinois, Mercilus had options.

His agent, Todd France, received calls from a bevy of teams looking to improve their pass rush. Kansas City, Pittsburgh and others all came after Mercilus, a guy that had three sacks in six games this season and 57 in his career. The 6-foot-4, 258-pound Ohio native did his homework. He talked with current and former players to learn about the environment and culture of the organizations, studied the different schemes of the teams and even looked at each club's remaining schedule.

"I did my pros and cons and all that and I prayed on it," Mercilus said Thursday. "Ultimately, all signs led to here."

Here turned out to be Green Bay, the Packers winning out for Mercilus' services despite not offering him the most money, something he confirmed when he spoke with reporters.

"Yeah, it's true. It's true," Mercilus said about taking a little less money to play for the Packers. "But it’s not even about the money at this point. It's more so trying to get a championship, trying to contribute as much as I can. Year 10, for guys like me on the back half of the career, and all that. Best option that I thought was coming here with a winning mentality. I definitely sense that here and I just want to be a dog and I add to that."

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One of the guys Mercilus spoke with before deciding was Randall Cobb. The wide receiver spent last season in Houston before quarterback Aaron Rodgers pushed for GM Brian Gutekunst to bring him back to Green Bay in a trade. When Cobb first got back to Green Bay, he spoke about feeling rejuvenated by getting away from what had become a toxic, losing environment with the Texans. Though Mercilus spoke positively about most of his time in Houston, getting to a new organization opened his eyes in a major way.

"The mentality from top down -- I'm talking about Tippity-top, all the way down -- everybody is on the same page," Mercilus said. "They invest in their players, into people. When you've got a mentality like that, that you just know you're being appreciated and they're doing everything to invest in you, you want to invest back into that. To experience something like that is awesome.

"I'm just grateful to be here. I’ve been accepted with open arms, love it. The energy is amazing, honestly. It just pumps new life, because I've only seen the same four walls for years and to see something different is pretty cool."

Green Bay adding veteran players to replaced injured guys is also something different but also considered pretty cool to the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams, and coach Matt LaFleur. It was rare for the Packers to add established players due to injury when the late Ted Thompson was the general manager. With the signings of cornerback Rasul Douglas off Arizona's practice squad, grabbing linebacker Jaylon Smith when he was cut by Dallas and now Mercilus, Gutekunst is clearly addressing things in a new manner.

"Guys like that, they want to come to a winning team," Rodgers said of Mercilus. "When you go from 1-5 to 5-1, that's a whole new outlook on life, I think. Now Jaylon obviously went from a good team to a good team, but for Whitney I think can breathe some life into a player like that, for sure."

For Mercilus, he goes from a team competing for the top pick in the 2022 NFL Draft to one that has won five straight games, has gone to two straight NFC title games and is in a championship-or-bust mode this season. What he can give the Packers remains to be seen. An outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense for his entire career before this season, Mercilus has seven sacks in his last 19 games. But, as Rodgers said, a fresh start could be just what he needs.

"I feel like I got a lot, man," Mercilus said when asked how much he had left in the tank. "Felt great out there (Thursday). It feels like I’m revitalized. The youngness in me is back because of a new environment..."


The Camp: Oct. 21, 2021

Wisconsin heads to Purdue this weekend to face the 25th-ranked Boilermakers. The guys talk about the challenges the Badgers will face on both sides of the ball, debate some over/unders for the game and give their predictions. They also talk about the Devin Chandler situation and whether his complaints have any merit. 


Packers: David Bakhtiari returns to practice

The player many consider the best left tackle in football was back on the practice field for the Green Bay Packers Wednesday.

David Bakhtiari, nearly 10 months removed from tearing an ACL in practice, jogged on to the field for the first time since the injury and took part in drills with the rest of the team.

"It was good to hear him. He couldn't keep his mouth shut today, which I guess is kind of normal," quarterback Aaron Rodgers joked. "But it was good to have him out there and in a helmet."

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Bakhtiari was injured during a practice on New Year's Eve. It proved to be a huge hit the team's Super Bowl chances, as Rodgers was under duress in the NFC title game throughout. The Packers have more than managed his absence with Elgton Jenkins starting three games and Yosh Nijman starting the other three.

The 30-year-old is quite the character off the field, with Rodgers saying he can be hard to handle for coach Matt LaFleur and offensive line coach Adam Stenavich, while also terrorizing some of the young offensive linemen. So, it is not a surprise that Rodgers is eager for Bakhtiari to be ready to play for several reasons and they are not all related to his play on the field.

"It's good having him back. He's a stud. He's a future Hall of Famer," Rodgers said. "He has a different focus, I think, when it comes to him being on the field and a different comfort for myself and really, I think everybody else in the coaching staff and the offensive line included, so it'll be nice to get him back whenever that is. Until then, we'll have to hear him yakking a bunch. Because once game week happens, and he's actually playing, he simmers down a little bit, but I don't think we're quite there yet."

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Injury update

Green Bay's injury report on Wednesday was smaller than at this time last week. Seven of the 10 guys listed on last Wednesday's report were not listed on this week's. The only ones remaining were tackle Dennis Kelly (back), cornerback Kevin King (shoulder) and center Josh Myers (knee). Kelly and Myers did not practice Wednesday, while King was limited.

There were some new names on the report, though. Linebacker Preston Smith (oblique) and safety Darnell Savage (concussion) were additions and did not practice. Wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown (shoulder) was also listed but was a full participant.


Packers: Injuries and replacements starting to resemble 2010 says Aaron Rodgers

Eleven years ago injuries nearly wrecked the season for the Green Bay Packers. Running back Ryan Grant was lost for the year in Week 1. Starting inside linebacker Nick Barnett saw his season come to an end in Week 4 against Detroit. A week later against Washington, a knee injury to tight end Jermichael Finley ended his year. In total, 14 players would end up on injured reserve. In an effort to plug holes, general manager Ted Thompson brought in a number of street free agents -- nose tackle Howard Green and outside linebacker Erik Walden to name a couple -- that would go on to play big roles in Green Bay's run to the Super Bowl XLV title.

It's been quite a while since that special run but this year is starting to have a familiar feel to it, at least according to one of the two remaining players on the roster from 2010.

"This season is beginning to remind me a little bit of a season over a decade ago where we've had a number of injuries and in the course of the season added certain pieces to the mix that ended up playing a big role down the line," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said Wednesday. "Think you guys can imagine what season I'm talking about, which is a good thing."

Rodgers comments came in response to the latest veteran addition to the roster in former Houston pass rusher Whitney Mercilus. He'll help fill a void at outside linebacker where the Packers have lost two players to season-ending injuries in Randy Ramsey and Chauncey Rivers, and aren't sure if their top pass rusher -- Za'Darius Smith -- will be able to return this season after back surgery.

Cornerback has also been hit hard, with All-Pro Jaire Alexander on injured reserve and Kevin King missing three games already this season. It forced them to sign veteran Rasul Douglas off of Arizona's practice squad and he ended up playing 85% of the defensive snaps against Chicago.

Back in 2010, when you went on injured reserve, you were done for the season. Right now, the Packers have seven players on IR and all of them are eligible to return.

Still, the signings of Mercilus and Douglas, combined with the acquisition of former Dallas inside linebacker Jaylon Smith, is a departure from the way the Packers have done business in the past. If a veteran went down, they expected a young guy to step up. While that is still the case in some spots -- offensive line for instance -- it's clear GM Brian Gutekunst is trying to give coach Matt LaFleur zero excuses for not reaching the team's potential, injuries or not.

"Oh, it makes you feel great as a coach," LaFleur said of the help. "Because ultimately we're as good many times as our players are able to go out there and perform. The more great players you have, the better the opportunity you have to win football games. And that's what we're all here for."


The Swing: Oct. 20, 2021

The Swing is back for Season 5! The guys talk Chucky Hepburn/Lorne Bowman, what the front court could look like with Chris Vogt, Steven Crowl and Ben Carlson, and whether Johnny Davis is ready to make the Badgers his team. They also chat with Wisconsin assistant coach Sharif Chambliss and answer your Twitter questions. 


Giannis scores 32 as Bucks roll to 127-104 win over Brooklyn in season opener

Milwaukee put a cap on its celebration of last season's NBA title Tuesday night and then got back to work in an attempt to defend that championship. That effort got off to a good start with a 127-104 win over Brooklyn at Fiserv Forum.

The Bucks led by as many as 19 in the first half before the Nets cut it to five just before the break. The game was close heading to the fourth quarter but Milwaukee then put its foot on the gas for the season-opening blowout.

NBA Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo got the new campaign going with 32 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists, while Khris Middleton gave the Bucks 20 points and nine rebounds. Milwaukee also got a lift off the bench from second-year forward Jordan Nwora, who pitched in 15 points and six rebounds. Pat Connaughton was also strong for Milwaukee, hitting four 3-pointers and scoring 20 points.

The Nets were paced by Kevin Durant's 32 points and 11 rebounds. Patty Mills dropped 21 points in his Brooklyn debut, while James Harden had 20 points in the loss.

Milwaukee lost point guard Jrue Holiday in the first half to a bruised heel. Before leaving, he had 12 points on 5 of 7 shooting from the field.

The Bucks will now hit the road for a three-game trip starting Thursday in Miami.


Packers Hall of Fame announces 2022 class

A couple players whose tenures in Green Bay did not exactly end on a high note are going to be enshrined in the team's Hall of Fame next summer.

The Packers Hall of Fame announced Tuesday that former wide receiver Greg Jennings and former linebacker Tim Harris would make up the 2022 class.

Jennings played seven seasons in Green Bay after being taken in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft. After a solid rookie season, Jennings became a star over the next five years. He topped 1,000 yards receiving three times, caught 37 touchdowns and was named to the Pro Bowl twice. His 6,537 yards receiving ranks ninth in team history, while his 425 catches is 10th and his 53 touchdowns is seventh.

His time with the Packers came to end following the 2012 season when the club didn't re-sign him and he subsequently joined NFC North rival Minnesota. Once out of Green Bay, Jennings became a vocal critic of the franchise, especially when it came to quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Jennings played three more years with Minnesota and Miami.

Harris, meanwhile, was a dominant pass rusher for the Packers in the late 1980s and early 1990s. A fourth-round pick in the 1986 draft, Harris racked up 55 sacks in five seasons, the eighth-most in team history. That included 19.5 in 1989 when he was an All-Pro and named to the Pro Bowl.

After seven sacks in 1990, Harris held out prior to the 1991 season in hopes of getting a new contract. The Packers rebuffed his efforts and traded him to San Francisco. Harris played five more seasons, finishing with 81 sacks in his career.

The two players will be enshrined during a Sept. 1, 2022 ceremony at Lambeau Field.


Bucks unveil championship banner, hand out rings in pregame ceremony

Milwaukee won its first NBA title in 50 years last season and the award for the players involved arrived Tuesday when the Bucks opened up a new campaign against Brooklyn at Fiserv Forum.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday and all the other members of the team that pushed Milwaukee past Phoenix in six games to claim the championship received their rings in a pre-game ceremony.

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The team also unveiled the 2021 World Championship banner in the rafters of the arena.

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