Packers fans are getting excited to see former All-Pro OLB Za’Darius Smith back on the field for the first time since Week 1. On Tuesday, coach Matt LaFleur said he is “hopeful” to get Smith and All-Pro CB Jaire Alexander back on the field Saturday against the 49ers.
Za’Darius returned to practice last week and is easing back into game shape. Coach LaFleur said Tuesday, “They’ll (Jaire & Z) be out there today and we’ll see how they react over the course of the week.”
Za’Darius Smith’s absence this season has been filled by the emergence of Rashan Gary, and reemergence of Preston Smith. However, Z’s value on the field for the Packers cannot be understated. Z brings juice and swagger to this defense, and always plays with a high motor. He has shown the ability to wreck game plans with his versatility and willingness to play multiple positions on defense.
Since joining Green Bay in the 2019 offseason, Smith has totaled 26 sacks, 29 TFL’s, and 60 QB hits. Za’Darius is well-liked in the locker room and is a noted leader on the team. So, at the bare minimum, it seems like a huge boost to team chemistry and morale in the playoffs.
How he fits into this defense at this point in the season is going to be interesting to watch. This is mainly because we do not know how healthy or how good he is going to look. Back surgery is no joke. In general, having Smith available allows for a lot of flexibility with personnel. Dean Lowry has been playing really well this season, but Z could be another interior penetrator next to NT Kenny Clark. That would certainly but a tough pass rush to stop if you have Smith and Clark inside, and then Gary and P. Smith on the edges.
Look for him to get most of his snaps from the edge. I do not expect him to take away significant playing time away from Smith or Gary. Simply put, he will be in there to wreak havoc. Joe Barry will find smart ways to get Z in situationally, hopefully in pass rush situations, where he can pin his ears back and get after Jimmy Garoppolo. If Za’Darius can just replace the Johnathan Garvin or the Tipa Galeai snaps, that is a major boost for the defense.
This defensive front will need to get after Jimmy G early and often, and force bad throws. If Green Bay can do this consistently, they will win the game. Fans should be excited for this game plan as Za’Darius Smith returning is a huge deal and could be a big factor in this game.
On top of getting Z’Darius Smith and Jaire Alexander back, they could be getting more edge help with the return of midseason acquisition OLB Whitney Mercilus. Green Bay’s defense is getting a huge boost with these reinforcements as they face a formidable 49ers rush offense that boasts multiple explosive weapons.