Concern is growing among the Packers’ organization that Za’Darius Smith may not be ready to play by week one.
Green Bay’s star outside linebacker is still wrestling with a back injury he suffered before training camp started last month. He was removed from the non-football injury list last week and briefly practiced on August 16th. However, he has yet to participate since and missed both Packers-Jets joint practices.
When asked about Smith’s status, head coach Matt LaFleur gave a worrisome prognosis.
LaFleur on Smith: “It definitely is a concern.”
In Sunday’s press conference, LaFleur and general manager Brian Gutekunst divulged further details related to the injury sidelining Smith. Unfortunately, neither one sounded optimistic.
The grim reality the Packers face is being without ½ of the infamous ‘Smith Bros’ come kickoff. With Za’Darius still out indefinitely, it’s possible he “could potentially” miss the season opener.
“I’m not quite sure when we’ll get ‘Z’ [Zadarius] back,” LaFleur confessed. “He’s injured right now. I know he wants to be out there, but we’re going to be smart with him. He’s obviously a big-time player for us. Yeah, it definitely is a concern.”
Gutekunst added, “Obviously he’s working through something right now. I’m hopeful that’s not the case, as far as missing game one, but he’s dealing with his little day-to-day injury. We got him out there to… see if he could get a couple good days [of practice last week], and then it just flared up on him again.”
Outside linebackers coach Mike Smith confirmed that his veteran player is continuing to rehab an unspecified back injury. He expressed #55’s frustration about being unable to practice and revealed that although Smith is healing and feeling better each day, the team doesn’t want him to return to practice too early only to experience a worse setback.
“Obviously, we want ‘Z’ to be out there,” Mike Smith said of Za’Darius. “We’ll just continue to see how it goes day-by-day.”
What Does This Mean for Smith?
With only three weeks left until Green Bay’s first regular-season game, it’s still unknown whether Smith will be playing. It all depends on the severity of his injury, which could force him off the field and onto the bench.
Playing without Smith would be a huge loss for the Packers’ defense. Their best pass rusher, he’s made it to the Pro Bowl in each of his two years with Green Bay. Smith is also one of just three NFL players to record 12+ sacks in both of the past two seasons, with an impressive total of 26.
Should Smith have to sit out the opening week match-up against New Orleans, it would be his first missed game since week 14 of the 2017 season. He’s appeared in every game for the Packers since joining the team in 2019.
In absence of Za’Darius, Preston Smith and Rashan Gary would likely play at outside linebacker. Green Bay’s front office might even keep a fifth OLB on the final 53-man roster, just in case Smith has to miss one or more games.
I think I speak for all Packers fans when I say, “Get well soon, Z… We need you!”
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