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Cheese Curds, 6/15: Smith and Savage help lead Packers’ pass rush & secondary

A seventh-year vet and a third-year pro are among the most important players for the Green Bay defense in 2021.

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Green Bay Packers Mandatory Minicamp Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Attack the quarterback and take away the deep pass. Those goals were always a hallmark of former Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s approach, and they appear to be primary focus areas for new DC Joe Barry as well. Fortunately for Barry, he has no shortage of talent at the positions most critical to those two goals.

At outside linebacker, the Packers have one of the more consistent pass-rushers in the NFL in Za’Darius Smith. However, after two exceptional seasons with the team — which saw him post 13.5 and 12.5 sacks — Smith still seems to be overlooked around the NFL. Snub him at your own peril at this point, as Smith has made a living lately turning disrespect into production.

While Smith isn’t getting the recognition that he deserves, a young defensive back is earning praise from national pundits. Darnell Savage blossomed in 2020, his second NFL season, picking off four passes and totaling 12 pass defenses. His advanced stats illustrate his excellent play as well, as he allowed a passer rating below 70 last year.

Those two players will be critical pieces to their position groups this season, with Smith anchoring the pass rush and Savage likely playing some combination of deep safety and slot corner. Look for both to have an inside track on being Pro Bowl starters in 2021 instead of just making the team as alternates like Smith did a year ago.

The fire still burns inside Za’Darius Smith |
OLBs coach Mike Smith joked a few weeks ago about creating a burner account on Instagram to troll Z, getting him fired up by leaving him off lists of top pass-rushers. Somewhat like Aaron Rodgers, Za'Darius seems to be motivated by slights and snubs, and there have been plenty of those despite his two excellent seasons with the Packers.

Green Bay Packers: De'Vondre Campbell brings good pass-coverage skills |
The Packers and other NFL scouts seem to like Campbell's ability to cover, even if it hasn't always translated in the numbers.

The NFL’s top 11 safeties | Touchdown Wire
One player whose coverage stats match up with the scouting assessment — and who isn’t getting snubbed right now — is Darnell Savage, who is ranked all the way up at #3 on Doug Farrar's list of the best safeties in the NFL heading into 2021.

James Jones: 'Don't read too much into' Packers president Mark Murphy's comments on Aaron Rodgers |
Jones still speaks with Murphy, who apparently calls and checks in on many former Packers players. The close friend of Rodgers says he isn't going to get upset or fired up about Murphy calling Rodgers "a complicated fella," saying instead that it's more of the situation that's complicated than anything else.

Packers rookie Chris Blair looks to follow in footsteps of fellow Alcorn State alum Donald Driver – The Athletic (subscription)
Driver was a seventh-round draft pick, while Blair came to Green Bay as an undrafted free agent. But Blair, who was recruited by Mississippi State out of junior college but was left in the cold after a coaching change, is excited to represent the players' alma mater.

$1.2 million worth of cocaine found on Florida beach during turtle nesting survey | NBC News
There will be some really disappointed turtles the next time they come back to lay eggs.