GREEN BAY - If the Green Bay Packers medical staff had its way, Za’Darius Smith might not have played in last week’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Smith nursed a knee injury during the short week leading up to the Thursday night kickoff. He said the injury happened on the final play of the Packers' win Sept. 22 against the Denver Broncos. Smith ended the victory with a wrap-around sack of Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco. His left leg got caught under Flacco, twisting his knee.
The knee didn’t hurt until the next morning, Smith said. He insisted on playing against the Eagles, who held him without a sack or tackle in 47 snaps (75.8 percent).
“To tell you the truth,” Smith said, “no excuses, but they didn’t really want me to play, but I still played because of who I am and my leadership around here. To get out there on the field and still be able to help my teammates, we didn’t come out with a win but, to be able to still go out there, I did what I could.
“This week will be a better week for me. I’ve been getting treatment, and I’m almost healthy.”
Preston Smith, Za’Darius’ partner on the edge, estimated his teammate was “99.9” percent healed, an estimation Za’Darius agreed with. That number doesn’t sound all too different than the percentage of snaps both have played this season.
Other than inside linebacker Blake Martinez, Preston Smith leads the Packers with 242 snaps (89.3 percent) through four games. Za’Darius Smith is not far behind at 227 (83.7).
Both pass rushers are young. Za’Darius turned 27 last month, while Preston turns 27 next month. Preston, especially, has been durable throughout his career, never missing a game in his first four-plus seasons.
“We’ve still got a lot of juice,” Za’Darius said.
Za’Darius does not have the same durability track record (he has played all 16 games just once in four seasons), and he has dealt with multiple injuries already this year. Besides the knee, Smith briefly left a game against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 2 with an ankle injury.
Za’Darius acknowledged “no” when asked if he and Preston can continue playing this many snaps through the season without it catching up to them. Still, given their importance to the defense – the Smiths have transformed the Packers' pass rush overnight – getting Za’Darius to voluntarily leave the field isn’t easy.
“I can tell you this, man,” Za’Darius said. “Coach always says, ‘Z, you need to come out for a play.’ I’m not coming out, man. I can tell you that. I’m a guy who, if it’s not broken, I’m going to still go. If I’ve got an opportunity to go out there and help my teammates succeed, I’m going to do that each and every time.”
Joining the club
Outside linebacker Tim Williams was unceremoniously dumped by the Baltimore Ravens this week and he wants to prove they gave up on him too quickly.
The Packers claimed Williams on waivers Wednesday and he showed up for practice Thursday. The former third-round pick was seen as a bust in Baltimore, but he has a couple of ex-Ravens in his corner in Packers director/football operations Milt Hendrickson and Za’Darius Smith.
“I mean, I did everything in my power this training camp with those guys to win a spot and those coaches, whatever they felt like was better for the team, that’s their situation,” Williams said. “I can’t control that.
“One thing I have is this gave me a bigger chip on my shoulder and made me put my nose down and want to work harder and work out harder and come to the Packers and just prove that I can help this team win and win more games than lose.”
Williams had just two sacks in 19 career games with the Ravens after totaling 18½ in his final two seasons at Alabama. Smith said he feels a change in scenery can mean a lot for Williams and he plans to help him turn his career around.
“It’s a fresh start for him,” Smith said. “He’s out here with me now, so he’s going to be good. I can tell you that. I’m going to take him up under my wing, something that I’ve been trying to do, but now we’re in a new position and a new place.
“So we’re going to continue to do what we do, man. and he’s going to be OK now.”
Starting defensive lineman Montravius Adams appears set to return after a two-game absence due to a shoulder injury.
Adams said he believes he dislocated his shoulder in the Minnesota game.
“I heard something pop,” Adams said. “It was on a play they scored a touchdown. On the (extra point) afterward, I really felt it.”
Adams will wear a harness on his shoulder to protect him, although he said he has been lobbying the medical staff to get rid of it. He has lost that fight, but he said he got in good work in pads Thursday with it on and is ready to move forward.
Outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell, important for the defense’s depth on the edge, also returned to practice after missing Wednesday’s with a shoulder injury. And right tackle Bryan Bulaga practiced for the second straight day, a positive sign he’s recovering from his shoulder injury and might be available Sunday.
However, receiver Davante Adams (toe), running back Jamaal Williams (concussion) and cornerbacks Kevin King (groin) and Tony Brown (hamstring) did not practice. Adams rode a stationary bike at the beginning of practice. Williams was without helmet but did some light stretching activity with the team. King and Brown watched stretching from the sidelines and later went through physical rehab.