INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis and Green Bay didn’t wait for this week’s roster moves to start filling holes.
Instead, they cut a deal Sunday.
The Colts traded inside linebacker Antonio Morrison to the Packers for cornerback Lenzy Pipkins, giving each veteran a chance to impress their new coaches in this week’s preseason finales — and a better chance of making the 53-man active roster.
Green Bay already was thin at inside linebacker after incumbent starter Jake Ryan suffered a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during training camp. The Packers suffered another blow when Ryan’s replacement, rookie Oren Burks, hurt his shoulder during Friday’s pregame warmups and missed the game against Oakland.
Coach Mike McCarthy said Sunday the injury to this year’s third-round draft pick was less severe than initially feared and would not be long term.
Still, they made the move.
“Antonio is obviously an experienced linebacker, and if you look at the youth of the group, that’s something we felt we needed to add,” McCarthy said. “Lenzy’s a good young corner, did some really good things for us at the end of the year. But we’re very young at that position.”
Getting Morrison could fill one of Green Bay’s most glaring needs. The 6-foot-1, 241-pounder played in 31 games with the Colts and made 19 starts, including 15 last season. He finished among the league’s top 20 in tackles in 2017, leading the Colts with 109.
Morrison was originally the Colts’ fourth-round draft pick in 2016.
But Morrison started sliding down the Colts’ depth chart after new defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus switched from a 3-4 defensive front to the more traditional 4-3, a scheme that requires only one starting inside linebacker. In contrast, Green Bay will continue to use a 3-4 scheme under new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.
Morrison’s experience also could make him an immediate contributor with starter Blake Martinez, who had 144 tackles last season and finished with a share of the league lead. Martinez started next to undrafted rookie Greer Martini when Burks sat out Friday.
Burks said nobody has given him a timeline for his return and he’s not sure if he’ll be ready for Green Bay’s season opener Sept. 9 against Chicago.
“Shoulder just popped out. It’s unfortunate but it’s part of the game,” Burks said. “Knew something was wrong, obviously, but I’ve never had any shoulder issues before so I didn’t really know what I was feeling or any kinds of things like that. Good evaluation, good feedback from the MRI and things like that.”
Pipkins played in 12 games, mostly on special teams, after making the Packers as an undrafted rookie last season. He also moved down the depth chart after Green Bay selected cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson with its top two picks in this year’s draft and re-signed free agent Tramon Williams, who played for Pettine in Cleveland after leaving Green Bay in free agency following the 2014 season.
“Our two rookies played well in the game,” McCarthy said. “But I think it’s just a product of a number of things. It (linebacker) is a position that we wanted to add experience to, and definitely some young guys there that we feel good about.”
With an already young secondary, the Colts figured they’d take a look at the 6-foot, 196-pound Pipkins in Thursday’s preseason finale at Cincinnati.
“We feel like it’s a good fit,” coach Frank Reich said. “He’s a guy that our guys had their eyes on. It’s tough with Antonio because I loved Antonio, I loved the toughness he brought. But I think this was a move that was best for the team.”