Packers secondary suffers setbacks with Eric Stokes, Darnell Savage going on injured reserve

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Green Bay Packers cornerback Eric Stokes’ comeback from a foot issue that sidelined him for nearly a year lasted only four plays before he got knocked out for multiple weeks again.

Stokes went back on injured reserve Wednesday after hurting his left hamstring three days earlier in a 19-17 loss at Denver. The 2021 first-round pick from Georgia was playing his first game since injuring his right knee and foot last November in a 15-9 loss at Detroit.

He’s joined on injured reserve by safety Darnell Savage, the latest setbacks for a Packers secondary struggling with depth issues because its top players can’t stay healthy. Savage suffered a calf injury in the Broncos game.

“In Denver, I was down the whole time and all that stuff,” said Stokes, who was on the field for only four special teams snaps. “But the moment we landed back here, it was time to man up and just go ahead and face reality. It is what it is. In Denver, I was like saying, ‘Why me? Why all this?’ and all that stuff. But the moment I got back here, it is what it is. It’s time to move forward. It’s time to focus on going ahead and getting back to the grind.”

Stokes noted he never dealt with major injuries in high school or college, making this past year particularly frustrating.

“It’s very tough on me,” Stokes said. "It tests me in any and every way and all that stuff, but it just makes me a better person and a stronger human being at the end of this.”

Packers coach Matt LaFleur expressed confidence that both players should play again at some point this season. The injured reserve designation means both Stokes and Savage must miss at least Green Bay’s next four games and couldn’t return until at least a Thanksgiving Day game at Detroit.

The Packers attempted to boost their secondary by signing Corey Ballentine to the active roster from their practice squad and signing cornerback Robert Rochell off the Carolina Panthers practice squad. They also signed cornerback Zyon Gilbert to their practice squad.

Ballentine played in Green Bay’s final eight games last season and had appeared in three games this season. Rochell played 28 games and made five starts for the Los Angeles Rams from 2021-22. Rochell said he should be able to make a smooth transition because the Packers and Rams have such similar approaches on defense.

“What’s a little different is the verbiage on what they call things and how they run it,” Rochell said. “For the most part, yeah, it’s the same scheme and the same with how they run things structurally. The learning curve will be quick.”

Green Bay (2-4) has needed to lean heavily on its defense because its young offense has struggled through growing pains and hasn’t scored a first-half touchdown in any of the Packers’ past four games.

But the injuries to Green Bay’s secondary have made it tough for that defense to play up to its capabilities. The Packers have just five takeaways to match the lowest total for any team.

Safety was considered one of the Packers main concerns at the start of the season, and Savage is the Packers most proven player at that position after starting 65 games over the past five seasons. Cornerback Jaire Alexander, a second-team selection in last season’s All-Pro balloting, has missed three of Green Bay’s past four games because of a back issue.

The Packers starting safety combination for Sunday’s game with the Minnesota Vikings (3-4) likely will include Rudy Ford and Jonathan Owens.

Ford has started each of Green Bay’s first six games this season and has two interceptions. Owens, who started all 17 games for the Houston Texans last season, played a season-high 32 defensive snaps at Denver but had a holding penalty on a third down incompletion during the Broncos lone touchdown drive.

“Someone has to step up,” Owens said. “That’s pretty much what the NFL is. The next man has to come in and perform as a starter does. Just ready for the opportunity.”