Green Bay Packers OLB Outlook with Za’Darius Smith on IR

Green Bay Packers OLB Za’Darius Smith was placed on Injured Reserve Friday, confirmed by Head Coach Matt LaFleur during his press conference yesterday.

Smith, who signed with the Packers in 2019, is a 2-Time Pro-Bowler and 1 of 3 players in the NFL to record at least 12 sacks in the last two seasons (TJ Watt, Aaron Donald). The University of Kentucky alum battled a back injury through out training camp and during last week’s loss vs. the Saints, tallied just 18 defensive snaps.

Per NFL IR rules, Smith will be sidelined for at least the next three games. His absence is a significant blow to the Packers defense, as he’s been Green Bay’s best pass rusher by a wide margin since his arrival. Matt LaFleur added his comments on Smith and the OLB situation on Friday:

“Z’s not gonna be out there unfortunately, we’re gonna have to shut him down for a while. It’s a matter of, just, do you keep him in a limited role? Or do you shut him down for a while, try to get him healthy and then get him up to the snap count we’d like him to be, just like he’s been in the past because he’s such an impact player, so it’s just the route we thought was best longterm”.

“He’s a disruptive force, he’s a game-wrecker. Certainly he’s a guy I think the offense has to account for on every play, where he’s at, where he’s aligned, how are you gonna protect against a guy like that? Because if you give him those 1 on 1 matchups, he can make you pay. He’s certainly proven his worth over the last couple of years, even prior to coming here, just how dominant and such a force he can be”.

The loss of Smith will require the rest of the Packers pass-rushers to step up their productivity if they want to pressure opposing quarterbacks. The two players that will be counted on most are OLB’s Preston Smith and Rashan Gary. Packers defensive coordinator Joe Berry weighed in on the discussion of the two players on Friday.

“I think Rashan, just being around him every single day, the way he works, he’s really an unbelievable leader in his own way for a young guy. It’s a bummer that we won’t have Z but I think Rashan, I think Preston, I think (Backup OLB) Jonathan Garvin, I think all those guys are ready to go and it’ll be great for both Rashan and Preston to get going. I thought Preston Smith played really consistent and physical football for us the other day”.

Packers OLB Rashan Gary pursues Saints QB Jameis Winston in Week 1 of the 2021 NFL Season

Preston Smith, who signed with the Packers in 2019, tallied 8 sacks in his first and 4 sacks in his second season with Green Bay, respectably. The 7 year NFL veteran has 40.5 sacks in his career and looks for a bounce back year in 2021 after a down season in 2020. Gary, one of two Packers first round picks in 2019 along with Safety Darnell Savage, is an up and coming player that took a significant jump from his rookie year to 2020 and looks to continue his ascension. Coach LaFleur on Gary:

“Rashan is a guy that, first of all, his approach is spot-on in terms of just the effort he gives, each and every day, every rep he goes 100 miles an hour and I think you can feel that effect not only in practice but in the games and we just need to continue for him to keep that upward trajectory that he’s been on”.

Outside of Preston Smith and Rashan Gary, Packers backup OLB’s Jonathan Garvin and Chauncey Rivers will need to step up when given the chance. Garvin (27 snaps in Week 1) and Rivers (11 snaps) were largely after-thoughts last Sunday, as well as many others on defense. While it would be ideal for P. Smith and Gary to play every snap, it’s just not realistic. The Packers signed LB La’Darius Hamilton off the Buccaneers practice squad on Friday to add depth to the position.

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Alex grew up in a family of Chicago Bears fans in the suburbs of Chicago but was always a diehard Packers fan. Alex\\\'s AIM name when he was in elementary/middle school was PackerAlex. He now lives in Nashville, Tennessee and you can follow him on twitter at @Alex_Mayer93.

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