After Desmond Bishop went on injured reserve during the 2012 preseason, D.J. Smith was to be the next man up for the Green Bay Packers at right inside linebacker. Smith had a promising 2011 campaign filling in for Bishop, as he had one interception in three starts. The optimism proved to be short-lived, however.
Smith was immediately installed as the starter upon Bishop's injury, but seemed to struggle through the first six games of the season. He did record two sacks and four pass breakups, but was not much of a factor against the run. Smith then suffered a torn ACL against Houston, which ended his season.
We've discussed Brad Jones' play at the position already, but it bears a little repeating: Jones came in and looked in all more complete than Smith did, helping out better against the run while also contributing somewhat in the pass rush and looking good in coverage. That performance earned Jones his new three-year contract.
Suffering a major ligament tear in the middle of the season makes a recovery timetable very difficult to estimate. Smith could very well be the odd man out early on, especially if his rehab prevents him from taking the field in the preseason. If that indeed ends up being the case, look for Smith to start the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list and be potential injury insurance for mid-season if one of the other inside linebackers gets hurt.
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Even if Smith does return in time for training camp and gets a full month of preparation, it will be difficult for him to break through into the starting lineup. With Bishop, Jones, and A.J. Hawk all getting paid starter's money, the three of them will likely take the lion's share of snaps on defense, leaving Smith to play special teams and wait for an opportunity to make an impact if one of those three suffers an injury.