Tramon Williams 'has a chance' to play

Here's something few of us would have considered when the week began: Green Bay Packers cornerback Tramon Williams (shoulder) could return to the field sooner than defensive end Mike Neal (knee). That was the upshot, however, of Packers coach Mike McCarthy's injury update Wednesday.

Williams bruised his right shoulder last Thursday against the New Orleans Saints but "has a chance" to play Sunday against the Carolina Panthers, McCarthy said. But Neal, who originally sprained his left knee in practice Aug. 16, had surgery Tuesday and will miss "a significant number of weeks," according to McCarthy.

It's not certain that Williams will return this week, and Neal's injury at this point does not appear season-ending. But it seems reasonable to assume Williams' absence will be brief, if any. Neal's won't be.

The Packers had penciled Neal in as a starter and he was a big reason why they allowed veteran Cullen Jenkins to depart via free agency. But Neal has struggled with a number of injuries during his two-year career, and it's hard to know what level of contribution he'll make this season.

Williams, meanwhile, didn't practice Wednesday and might not participate Thursday. But McCarthy said he has "made a lot of progress" since walking gingerly off the field last Thursday and added: "Being on a 10-day work week from the Saints game to the Carolina game, I think he definitely has a chance. Tramon is a veteran player for us and he does a great job with preparation so we'll give him every chance to make the game."

If Williams can't play, Sam Shields likely will start in his place. The Packers announced Jarius Wynn as Neal's replacement against the Saints, but in reality they opened the game in a nickel package that featured only two defensive linemen: Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji.