Za’Darius Smith’s strange 2021 has taken yet another turn. The Green Bay Packers’ best pass-rusher over the past two years has had a bizarre two months, starting training camp on the physically unable to perform list with a back issue. He then came off PUP briefly to practice late in camp, but was shut down again before doing enough work before week one to play in Sunday’s season-opening loss to the New Orleans Saints.
In the middle of all that, Smith seemed to take some offense to not being named a captain, as Jaire Alexander, Kenny Clark, and Adrian Amos earned the votes from their teammates to get that honor.
Now, Smith is being shut down due to his back problems, according to Packers head coach Matt LaFleur. In his Friday press conference, LaFleur said that Smith will go on injured reserve, which will keep him out for at least the next three weeks. That will mean he will miss the upcoming games against the Detroit Lions, San Francisco 49ers, and Pittsburgh Steelers at a minimum as the Packers hope to get him back to full strength before putting him back on the field.
With Smith out, the duo of Preston Smith and Rashan Gary will be left to carry the load as edge rushers while Jonathan Garvin and Chauncey Rivers provide the depth at the position. Green Bay also has second-year pro Tipa Galeai on the practice squad, but according to Tom Silverstein, the team is signing LaDarius Hamilton off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ practice squad to fill Smith’s vacated roster spot and add to their depth.
In any case, the Packers have some big shoes to fill. Smith has racked up at least 12 sacks in each of his two seasons with the Packers and has been productive both off the edge and as an interior rusher on passing downs. In week one, Smith played just 18 snaps as a rotational player, but worked his way onto the field more in the middle part of the game with the team’s other edge players struggling. His biggest play in the game, a hit on quarterback Jameis Winston that forced an interception, was erased by a terrible roughing the passer penalty that the NFL acknowledged was a bad call.