Packers feel optimistic about Rashan Gary and Eric Stokes returning but obstacles remain
Packers leadership expressed optimism that Rashan Gary and Eric Stokes could return soon, but the path to recovery can sometimes take unexpected turns.
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Wednesday marks the first time the Green Bay Packers will hold their first practice of training camp. To many in and around the team, that event represents the true end of the offseason, one that has seen the roster dramatically reshaped following the departure of Aaron Rodgers and the ascension of Jordan Love as the starting quarterback.
But the end of the offseason shines a spotlight on another important matter: the availability of star pass rusher Rashan Gary and third-year cornerback Eric Stokes.
Officially, Gary and Stokes will open camp on the active/physically unable to perform list. Though the Packers can activate players off the PUP list at any point before final cuts, team leaders hadn't intimated return timetables for either defender during the offseason.
The injury timelines for both players look remarkably similar. During a Week 9 tilt with the Detroit Lions last year, Gary tore the ACL in his right knee while Stokes hurt his foot and knee. Both landed on injured reserve days later, effectively ending their seasons. While Gary and Stokes went down early enough in 2022 to plausibly return to action by Week 1 of the upcoming campaign, the lack of updates from the team has clouded their outlooks.
To a certain degree, that remains true as the team opens training camp. But this week, the Packers seemed to suggest Gary and Stokes' time away from the football field might come to an end in the not-too-distant future.
"I think we're hopeful for that," head coach Matt LaFleur said of Gary and/or Stokes returning during training camp, adding, "I think they're doing really well. And the whole plan the whole time, I believe, was just when they get in here to put them on PUP and we'll see how fast we can get them off. Provided there's just no setbacks, I would see them eventually coming off."
Though both players could return from the PUP list in the coming weeks, the optimism for Gary seems stronger at this stage.
"He's such an important factor for our football team. We're going to be very cautious in that as far as making sure he's good to go," general manager Brian Gutekunst said of Gary. "He's got a long career ahead of him, and we want to make sure that we do everything we can to get him to where he can go let it loose. He's done an amazing job.
"As you guys know, it's going to be hard to hold him back. He's ready to go. He wants to keep pushing, and he will. But at the same time, we'll start him off in these next 2-3 weeks and kind of see where he's at. I wouldn't put anything past him because he's a different kind of guy."
LaFleur and Gutekunst's collective tone provides the most positive indication yet regarding Gary and Stokes' recoveries, particularly the window the GM provided for evaluating his star pass rusher's health. Still, gaining clearance for football activities represents just one of the hurdles the two defenders have to overcome.