Packers may have to accept Za'Darius Smith's return will be a gradual process
GREEN BAY - The Green Bay Packers are hoping outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith’s restart is better than the last one.
Three weeks to the day that he tested his ailing back only to find he wasn’t ready to return, Smith was back on the practice field Monday, taking part in individual drills with his teammates. He performed under the watchful eye of trainer Bryan Engel, who gave Smith a thumb’s up on the drills in which he could take part.
Reporters are kicked out of practice when the full 11-on-11 drills begin, but coach Matt LaFleur said Smith would probably not be taking part in those.
After giving the players a league-mandated three days off starting Friday, LaFleur used Monday to sneak in an extra day of preparation for the season opener against New Orleans in Jacksonville, Florida. The players will have their usual Tuesday off and then return for the regular practice week Wednesday.
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Getting Smith on the field Monday should allow the trainers an opportunity to see how his back responds to football drills and give them an idea of whether they can let him expand his work level. LaFleur may have to accept it will be a gradual process bringing Smith along, given that the last time he returned it only lasted one day.
Smith reported to camp with a back injury and was on the reserve/non-football injury list until Aug. 16, when he took part in his first practice. Like Monday’s workout, it was conducted without pads, but he proved unable to return the next day.
Smith, the team’s sack leader over the past two seasons with 26, would probably play a limited amount of snaps if he is cleared to face the Saints. Third-year pro Rashan Gary may start the game even if Smith is able to play.
With Smith’s return, the Packers were missing only safety Vernon Scott, who is nursing a hamstring injury that has caused him to seven practices and two games.
“I'd say we're fairly healthy,” LaFleur said. “For the most part, most of the guys are available. And that's what we wanted to do is, is make sure that the guys that needed the work out there, and in the preseason, they got the work.
“Some of our veteran guys, we chose not to play them so that they were hopefully 100% for Week 1.”
LaFleur said that there were no COVID-19 issues with the team after the weekend off.
Vaccinated players are tested once a week and the results are returned the same day. Unvaccinated players are tested every day and had to report to the club facility to receive their test.
A positive test could occur later in the week, but for now it appears the team won’t need any replacements for the Saints game.
LaFleur said the time off the players received was important for the coaches, too.
LaFleur gave his assistants time off over the weekend to recharge because with 17 regular-season games and a late bye week (Dec. 5), the Packers won’t get many chances to catch their breath.
“It was great,” he said. “Very rarely do you have a chance to kind of refresh at the beginning of the season. From a coaching staff standpoint, we got the guys out of the office on the weekend and they got a chance to reconnect with their family a little bit and kind of recharge the battery.
“So, I think our guys are juiced up and ready to go.”
Asked if he took the weekend off, LaFleur said, “I may have been in here yesterday.”