Za'Darius Smith motivated by slights; Preston Smith showing a leaner look

Ryan Wood
Packers News

GREEN BAY - Za’Darius Smith, no different than many great athletes, is often motivated by even the most minuscule of slights. Leave him off a top-10 list at his position, and he notices. Sometimes he’ll even post it to his social media accounts. 

Green Bay Packers outside linebackers coach Mike Smith said it’s important to find the “why” that drives his players. With Smith, there’s no question it’s the slights. 

“If I was Z, I would be pissed,” Mike Smith said. “Because I’m probably playing favorites, but I do think he’s one of the best in the league. I think he’s proven it the past couple years. So, good. Whoever wrote that, just keep doing that.” 

Then Mike Smith had an idea. 

“Maybe I’ll get a fake account and start doing it myself,” he said. “Just start posting stuff on there. Actually, don’t record that, because I am going to do that. That’s a great idea. ‘Can you believe what they said about you today, Z? I cannot believe that.’” 

Za'Darius Smith works out during the Packers' OTA session Tuesday.

While Za’Darius Smith is carrying plenty of motivation into the offseason, Preston Smith also showed he was motivated for a rebound upon reporting to organized team activities.

A year ago, before his production declined, outside linebacker Preston Smith reported to training camp noticeably bulkier than the previous season. He has trimmed weight this offseason. 

“I think he looks a lot leaner than he did coming into last training camp,” Mike Smith said.  

Pettine's pal

Before they worked together on the Packers' coaching staff, Mike Smith and former defensive coordinator Mike Pettine were close friends. 

It was Smith who invited Pettine to organized team activities with the Kansas City Chiefs, Pettine’s first reentry into the NFL after being fired as the Cleveland Browns head coach in 2015. When the Chiefs fired Smith, Pettine welcomed him onto the Packers' defensive staff in 2019. Smith had previously graduated from coaching intern to linebackers coach with the New York Jets when Pettine was defensive coordinator. 

In Green Bay, the two often rode in the same car to Packers practice. 

“Mike is one of my best friends,” Smith said. “I’ve been with Mike and known him for a long time.” 

Smith won’t share a staff with Pettine this season, though his friend won’t be far away. After the Packers chose not to extend Pettine’s contract, he was hired as a senior defensive assistant with the Chicago Bears. 

Even though he’s across the division, Smith said he still expects big things from Pettine. He’s also pleased to remain on new defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s staff.  

“I’d be lying to you,” Smith said, “if I said (Pettine’s departure) wasn’t hard, but one thing is, this is a business. And it’s a tough business. I mean, it happened in Kansas City with Bob Sutton. (The Chiefs fired Sutton as defensive coordinator in 2018). Bob is another one of my very close friends, almost like a father to me. 

“It happens, and I love Green Bay. I love it here. Very fortunate that I have an opportunity to stay here. But Pet, he’ll be fine. He’s a brilliant mind, and he’s going to be good wherever he goes.” 

‘Star’ gazing

Even if the nickel corner position — aptly named the “star” position in new defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s defense — eventually is whittled down to a single player, it isn’t starting that way. 

The Packers are rotating “four or five” candidates for the star position during organized team activities, defensive backs coach Jerry Gray said.  

“We’re going to roll them through,” Gray said. “We’ve got some good players here, and that’s going to give us a chance to see how many guys can actually really dominate at that position. Eventually, after it’s over, before the season starts, I think we would hone in on one or two of those guys.” 

All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey filled the star position for the Los Angeles Rams last season when Barry was their linebackers coach, but Barry emphasized Ramsey was only part time in that role. So while second-team All-Pro Jaire Alexander might be among the candidates for that position, that doesn’t mean he would be the full-time nickel. 

“That nickel, star position is such a unique spot,” Barry said, “and it’s become so popular and so, really, vital in today’s football, just because of all the sub defenses that you really have, all the multiple-DB defenses that you have. So we’re going to rep a lot of guys, and a lot of guys are going to get opportunities.  

Burks back inside

Oren Burks’ experiment with outside linebacker is over. 

The 2018 third-round pick slid over to the edge midway through last season in an attempt to get him more snaps. That never happened consistently, with Burks playing only 96 snaps last year. He remained a key special-teams contributor, leading the Packers with 335 reps. 

Now Burks has returned to the position he was drafted to play. 

“I’m happy that OB is back in there,” inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti said. “It’s something that we just decided that would be the best spot for him to learn the defense through, and OB is just outstanding in learning the defense. He’s great on the practice field. He’s always going to be the guy that’s running around and is really good for the group to have in there. So it’s really nice to have him back in the room with us, and I think he’s excited about it too.” 

Promotions

Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst made a couple of promotions in the player personnel department.

Chad Brinker, who has spent 11 years in the Packers’ pro personnel department, was promoted to personnel/football administrative executive. Brinker served the last three seasons as the assistant director of pro scouting/salary-cap analyst. 

Patrick Moore will become assistant director of college scouting after spending the last three seasons as a Packers college scout.