Packers optimistic Aaron Jones, Christian Watson to play Thursday

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Welcome back, Aaron Jones and Christian Watson?

There wasn't a banner hanging in the Green Bay Packers' locker room on Tuesday to announce their return from hamstring injuries, but there might as well have been one considering the optimism that came from within.

Watson, who missed the first three games of the season, said he expects to make his season debut on Thursday night against the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field.

"That's the plan," Watson said.

Packers coach Matt LaFleur, whose daily news conference came several hours after player availability, insisted that both players still needed to be cleared before Thursday. He said he's "cautiously optimistic" about Jones, and that "I like his mindset" when asked to comment about Watson saying he plans to play.

Jones, who pulled a hamstring in the season opener, wasn't around to speak for himself but quarterback Jordan Love and receiver Romeo Doubs did.

"It'll be huge," Doubs said of their return. "I know Christian is a guy that can go out there and make plays. We can all make plays but I know Christian can go out there and make them because he's really experienced in this offense, too."

"We'll have 3-3 back," Doubs added referring to Jones' uniform number 33. "So, Aaron's Aaron. He's been making plays, so it'll be exciting."

Said Love: "That would be very good for our offense. He's a huge playmaker. You saw Week 1, just getting him the ball ends up in a good play most of the time, so it's going to be huge just for everybody, just help out. He's going to be a big playmaker for us and probably just make the offense be a little more explosive when he's out there."

Love and the Packers have managed a 2-1 start despite playing most of the way without their top running back and their most explosive receiver. Jones totaled 127 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns in the first three quarters of the Week 1 game against the Chicago Bears before he dropped out with the injury.

Without Watson, Love hasn't hit many deep balls. While he leads the league in air yards per attempt at 10.1, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, he's tied for 15th in actual yards gained per attempt at 6.8. Watson was injured in practice on Aug. 31.

Watson practiced on Wednesday and Friday last week, taking Thursday off to aid in his recovery. When he returned on Friday, it seemed to indicate he had a decent chance to play on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. He said on Tuesday that he was "pretty close" to playing against New Orleans.

"Some things aren't up to me," Watson said. "At the same time, I want to put our team in the best position to win. Me holding somebody else off the roster for that game because I'm going out there just to play 10 plays isn't really going to help us as a team that much."

Even if Jones and Watson return, the Packers won't be at full strength on offense. In fact, they could be without 60% of their starting offensive line. Left guard Elgton Jenkins (knee) is expected to miss another game or two. Left tackle David Bakhtiari missed Weeks 2 and 3 because of recurring knee issues, and right tackle Zach Tom (knee) dropped out of Sunday's game.