GREEN BAY — When the Green Bay Packers kept saying they couldn't wait until they get all of their players back, it's a safe bet they weren't talking about Ryan Grant.
Yet, there was Grant, their former starter at halfback, standing in the locker room Wednesday, a member of the Packers once again after taking a sabbatical due to a lack of interest from the NFL.
"I was glad to see him walk through the door," coach Mike McCarthy said.
These days, McCarthy is glad to see anyone walk through the door, especially if they're walking without a limp. The Packers have been hoping for months to get some of their injured stars back in December, just in time for the stretch run and the playoffs. But most of the stars haven't exactly rushed back and even when some do, the Packers continue to lose other players to injury.
In Sunday's victory over Minnesota, wide receiver Jordy Nelson and tackle T.J. Lang went down with hamstring and ankle injuries, respectively. A day later, the Packers were surprised to find out that halfback James Starks had suffered a knee injury and might miss the rest of the season. Hence, the addition of Grant, a 30-year-old back Green Bay had declined to re-sign after last season.
The past week is typical of how the Packers' season has gone. They got back wide receiver Greg Jennings and lost three others.
When McCarthy was asked about the availability of an injured player for Thursday's practice, he said, "We'll see what the morning brings us. Every morning brings us something different the past 10 days."
So far, the Packers have been able to cope with the injuries, winning six of their last seven games. Their ability to battle through injuries and perform efficiently is no accident, either. The approach taken by McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson is to build a team with youth and depth so it can withstand injuries late in the season.
That proved to be a winning formula in 2010 — when the Packers won the Super Bowl despite having 15 players on the injured reserve list — and is has kept them afloat this season. But with halfback Cedric Benson, tackle Bryan Bulaga and linebacker Desmond Bishop on IR, Nelson, Lang, Starks, linebacker Clay Matthews and defensive ends Mike Neal and C.J. Wilson unable to practice and defensive backs Charles Woodson and Sam Shields practicing on a limited basis Wednesday, the Packers are taxing their youth and depth like never before.
"I know exactly what it feels like," said McCarthy, citing the 2010 season. "You're juggling balls more than what you have. It's just about the investment you make in your younger players. Frankly, it starts in the spring. We have a lot of different guys playing two, three different positions and we're going to need them to perform Sunday night (against Detroit)."
The Packers are stretched to the limit at several positions, but especially in the lines. The shortage of able-bodied players is so acute it has started to affect practice.
"I think we've scaled back about as far as we can go," McCarthy said. "We were very light today. We only had two team periods. That's unusually light for us, but we're just being smart with our guys. We're pushing the envelope on having 46 healthy, so you have to lower the risk in practice."
Still, most of the players are expected back eventually. Shields and possibly Woodson will play against the Lions and Woodson almost certainly will be back for the Chicago game the following week. McCarthy said Matthews and Nelson are getting better but would put no timeline on their return.
One thing that has helped the Packers cope with this siege of injuries is their belief in their system. From Thompson on down, they have uncommon faith in every player on the roster. They don't allow self-pity to enter the locker room.
"We feel it's important for the way we go about our business," McCarthy said. "Self-pity is a waste of time. It's a wasted emotion. Frankly, I think (dealing with injuries) is a part of the National Football League. I don't think we've created any secret formula on how we go about it. We just stay focused on what's in front of us and you have to, especially these division games. They're so important."
One difference between 2010 and 2012 is that almost no true game-changers were lost to injury in 2010, whereas this season Woodson, Matthews, Jennings and Nelson have missed time. All have a chance to return, though, and if they do the Packers could hit their stride quickly. Provided they don't lose anyone else, of course.
But how many hits can the Packers take before they collapse under the weight of the injuries?
"I hope not too many more," wide receiver James Jones said. "But we're built Ford tough in here, so we'll be all right."
That's been the case so far, but there aren't many more Ryan Grants left out on the street.
Contact Tom Oates at firstname.lastname@example.org or 608-252-6172.