Originally posted on Fox Sports Wisconsin  |  Last updated 11/30/11
GREEN BAY, Wis. A tenuous situation at linebacker offers a little more uncertainty than the undefeated Green Bay Packers are used to.Injuries and an off-field incident will have coach Mike McCarthy scrambling to figure out his defensive lineup next to Clay Matthews prior to facing the Giants in New York on Sunday.Other than Matthews who has been on the injury report since Week 3 with a slew of injuries ranging from sore quadriceps to knees to ankles but has played in every game the rest of the group of Packers starting linebackers could be out of action.The starting outside linebacker spot opposite Matthews has been occupied all season by fourth-year player Erik Walden. But Walden was arrested the morning after Green Bays Thanksgiving win and spent the weekend in jail on suspicion of domestic violence. However, Walden did practice Wednesday despite being due back in court on Dec. 7, three days after the Week 13 game at New York."I have every anticipation for Erik to start," McCarthy said Wednesday. "His situation is obviously under review, going through the legal process. Based on the information we have to date, Erik will play in the game."During Waldens apology Tuesday, he said he had resigned himself to the possibility of not being allowed to play. A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop the two starting inside linebackers in defensive coordinator Dom Capers 3-4 defense both missed practice Wednesday with calf injuries. Hawk and Bishop missed the second half against the Lions last week, with Bishop needing the assistance of crutches to stand on the sideline.McCarthy has already ruled Hawk and Bishop out of Thursdays practice, with both players being reevaluated Friday.The game against the Lions was Green Bays third game in 11 days, a schedule which Bishop and Matthews partly attributed to the injuries to."It's a little strenuous, (and) I dont necessarily agree with it," Bishop said. "Its not really good. I wonder about the correlation between injury and playing that (game) back-to-back. Probably so."Bishops absence would be a big hole to fill. He is seventh in the NFL with 97 tackles and tied for the team lead in sacks with Matthews at five and in tackles-for-loss with four.If Bishop is unable to play, rookie D.J. Smith would be the first to step into his spot.Smith, a sixth-round pick out of Appalachian State, played very well filling in for Bishop in Detroit last week and had five solo tackles.The Packers epitomized the motto of "next man up" last season, when 16 players were placed on injured reserve leading up to the Super Bowl. This was simply Smiths turn to be that guy, and he has plenty of support from the rest of the defensive starters if he needs to take another turn."Our backups are just as qualified as our starters," nose tackle B.J. Raji said. "When your number is called, everyone is expected to rise to the occasion. Everyone understands what the standard is around here. If youre going to be a part of this, you have to hold up your end of the bargain."Someone goes down now, and youre the full-time guy. Now, how do you respond?"After returning to Lambeau Field from the three-day weekend McCarthy gave the players, Smith watched tape of himself from the game in Detroit."Just to see myself out there with guys like (Charles) Woodson, Matthews, Raji, Tramon (Williams), it feels real good," Smith said. "I thought it was pretty cool. Youre out there playing with Pro Bowl guys, Heisman Trophy guys. Its real fun."The players Smith looked up to last year while he was still in college had only one message for him: "Dont mess up."Outside linebacker Frank Zombo was back on the practice field Wednesday after missing the last three games with a hamstring injury. Though Zombo would be the player to start in the event something changed with Waldens legal situation, hes not the answer at inside linebacker."Im more of an outside rusher," Zombo said. "I never really had any inside experience, so I dont know if Id really be able to help. If they needed me to, Id try it. But I dont know how well Id do."So if Hawk is unable to play, Robert Francois will get the start. Francois was released by the Packers in November last season but re-signed six days later and was part of the active roster in the Super Bowl.When Francois got a chance for extended playing time against the Lions, he intercepted Matt Stafford in the third quarter and the Packers scored a touchdown on the next play."With A.J. and Desmond going down, with Francois and DJ stepping up, they did a fantastic job," Matthews said. "Were comfortable with the guys we have, especially with what they showed last week. Theyre young, but they played well. We feel good about where theyre at and the preparation of getting a full week."If were fortunate enough to have A.J. and Desmond back this week, then more power to us. But (Smith and Francois) will do a good job."Follow Paul Imig on Twitter
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