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Za’Darius Smith returns to Green Bay, LaFleur says he’s “certainly hopeful” Smith plays this year

Things are trending upward for the banged up Packers.

Houston Texans v Green Bay Packers Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Today, Packers outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith tweeted out that he is returning to Green Bay following the back surgery that led to him landing on the injured reserve list. When asked by a Twitter user “How’s the back?” Smith replied, “I feel like a new man.

When head coach Matt LaFleur was asked for an update on Smith’s situation today, LaFleur stated, “We’re certainly hopeful [Smith can play this season.] As far as the updates on him, in terms of when he will be available, I really don’t have anything to comment on right now. WE need to get him back in the building and see where he’s at.”

If the Packers can get an outside linebacker unit of Preston Smith, Rashan Gary, Za’Darius Smith, and Whitney Mercilus on the field with Jonathan Garvin and inside linebacker Oren Burks giving them reserve edge snaps off of the bench, the team will be in a much better spot than they were just a few weeks ago. With the defensive line, particularly Dean Lowry, stepping up as of late, an improved pass-rush would go a long way as the Packers prepare for the toughest stretch of their season yet.

Smith was a 2020 All-Pro and back-to-back Pro Bowler before his summer back injury derailed the start of his 2021 season. The Packers converted his salary into a signing bonus to keep their roster together, potentially putting Smith in a position where he thought it was better financially to test his back injury in the regular season rather than have surgery in the summer. Smith missed the vast majority of camp, working out on the field just one day in the summer, before suiting up in Week 1 for pressure packages against the Saints. For reference, Smith’s cap hit in 2022 is $28 million after the team converted his 2021 salary into a bonus, which can be done against a player’s wishes, putting him in a “prove it” year situation despite the team technically having him under contract for another season.

After the poor returns from Smith in Week 1, the team placed Smith on the injured reserve list and picked up La’Darius Hamilton off of Tampa Bay’s practice squad. Smith also wasn’t named a team captain this summer, something that apparently bothered him enough to post on social media that he was going to commission a team captain chain to be made. At least as of late on social media, it seems like Smith’s spirits are higher now that the team he’s returning to has posted a 7-0 record in his absence.