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Banged-up Packers defense to receive reinforcements soon

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Help is on the way for the Packers' banged-up defense, and it can't come soon enough.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said cornerback Al Harris and safety Atari Bigby are far enough along in their recovery from injuries to begin practicing Wednesday, along with rookie running back James Starks.

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Harris, Bigby and Starks began the season on the Packers' physically unable to perform list and are eligible to come off it this week. Once the players begin practicing, the Packers have three weeks to decide whether or not to put them on the active roster.

"They can't do any more than they've done from a rehab standpoint," McCarthy said Monday. "So it's time to cut those guys loose. I know they're excited about it, and we're excited to get them on the practice field."

The Packers also beefed up their defense in a trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars to acquire safety Anthony Smith.

After losing back-to-back games in overtime, the Packers are preparing for a home game against the Minnesota Vikings this weekend in dire need of reinforcements.

Green Bay played without eight starters because of injuries in Sunday's loss to the Miami Dolphins, including five on defense -- and two of their defensive starters in that game, defensive end C.J. Wilson and safety Charlie Peprah, are third-stringers.

Beyond that, McCarthy said outside linebacker Brady Poppinga will have arthroscopic knee surgery, and no timeline has been established for his return.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said he was eager to see Harris and Bigby return, along with other injured players such as outside linebacker Clay Matthews, who sat out Sunday's game with a left hamstring injury.

"We're getting hopefully two studs back this week on defense, three if you count Clay," Rodgers said. "We need those guys back. We need to be at full force. No excuses, obviously."

And while McCarthy has received positive medical reports about Harris, Bigby and Starks -- a sixth-round draft pick who hurt his hamstring in offseason workouts and didn't play during his senior season in college because of a shoulder injury -- he needs to see them in practice.

"When you're the head coach and you talk to players about injuries, they're always fine," McCarthy said. "They're always playing this week, and they're always good. And you appreciate that. But we'll find out about those guys Wednesday."

Harris is recovering from a season-ending left knee injury last November. Tramon Williams has played well after moving up from the Packers' No. 3 cornerback to fill in, but a healthy Harris would give the team three good, experienced cornerbacks.

Bigby's hard hits and big plays energized Green Bay's defense during the 2007 season, but he has struggled with injuries since then. He skipped offseason workouts, hoping for a long-term contract, but showed up for training camp on time, only to aggravate a left ankle injury. He needed surgery.

Bigby was replaced by Morgan Burnett, a third-round pick out of Georgia Tech, but the rookie tore his anterior cruciate ligament during a victory over the Detroit Lions earlier this month. Backup Derrick Martin also is on injured reserve with a knee injury.

It will be Smith's second stint in Green Bay. The Packers signed him as a free agent in 2009, but cut him before the start of the season -- a move that veteran cornerback Charles Woodson publicly criticized at the time.

"Anthony has a history with us, has played in this defense, and we think he is a good fit," McCarthy said. "It will be great to have him back."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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