The whole band really is getting back together.
At least, that’s how it looks for the Green Bay Packers. Left tackle David Bakhtiari and center Josh Myers returned to the field on Sunday to play in the Packers’ season finale. Wide receiver Randall Cobb and cornerback Jaire Alexander were back at practice during the week leading up to Sunday’s game. And now, news has broken on Monday morning that Za’Darius Smith is headed back to the practice field this coming week.
The news comes from Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, who reports that Z will be designated for return during the Packers’ playoff bye with the intent of him playing in the Divisional round:
From @GMFB: #Packers star pass-rusher Za’Darius Smith, out since late September because of back surgery, was officially cleared this past week & is slated to be designated for return this week, sources say. If all goes well, he’ll be on the field when Green Bay’s playoffs begin. pic.twitter.com/t2iRWiAcvw— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 10, 2022
The Packers’ pass rush has been improved in 2021 over the previous season, but it has relied almost exclusively on Preston Smith and Rashan Gary, at least off the edge. The team has cycled through a number of young players in depth roles behind those two, but without Za’Darius Smith available to provide a veteran in the rotation, the defense has struggled when the starters have had to leave the field for a breather.
Za’Darius may only play a rotational pass-rushing role, but that could be enough to help keep Preston Smith or Gary a bit fresher while putting a quality player on the field. It is also important to remember that Za’Darius Smith posted back-to-back 12-sack seasons in his first two years with the Packers, first with 13.5 in 2019 and then with 12.5 last year. Smith has played in only one game during the 2021 season, the week one opener against the New Orleans Saints. He took the field for just 18 snaps after missing most of the preseason, and was shut down following that game due to his back issue.
While most NFL teams are losing players due to injury heading into the postseason, the Packers appear to be getting several superstars back just in time for a playoff run.