Za'Darius Smith's status for opener in doubt after not practicing Friday

GREEN BAY - Za’Darius Smith was unable to practice Friday because of a back injury that forced him to miss all but one day of training camp. His absence came a day after the Green Bay Packers announced a group of seven captains that did not include their two-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker. 

Smith signed as a free agent with the Packers before the 2019 season and immediately was elected a captain. He was a captain in 2020 also. In each year, the Packers had only three captains, and Smith was the lone captain on defense. 

So his absence from a group of seven that included three defensive captains was conspicuous. Smith tweeted “wow” with a scratching-chin emoji shortly after the team announced its captains list Thursday afternoon.

Coach Matt LaFleur downplayed Smith’s exclusion, suggesting it only had to do with the injury that kept him away from practice over the past month. 

“He’s still a leader on this football team,” LaFleur said. “I think sometimes when you’re going through everything that he’s gone through throughout training camp and the preseason, and you’re not around the guys quite as much, sometimes that is a byproduct of that.” 

LaFleur said he had not spoken with Smith about his exclusion from the captain list. He also did not expect it to become an issue inside the locker room. 

“In my mind,” LaFleur said, “he’s still a captain.” 

Chosen to be the captains this year were quarterback Aaron Rodgers, receiver Davante Adams, tight end Marcedes Lewis, cornerback Jaire Alexander, nose tackle Kenny Clark, safety Adrian Amos and kicker Mason Crosby.

Packers outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith (pictured during OTAs in May) didn't practice Friday.

Smith was listed as questionable on Friday’s injury report despite being held out of practice. He was one of two Packers players unable to practice Friday, including safety Vernon Scott. The young safety was ruled out because of a hamstring injury, while defensive lineman Tyler Lancaster was also listed as questionable because of a back injury. 

Preston Smith returned to practice Friday after missing Thursday’s padded session with a minor laceration on his head. Lewis also returned after being given “veteran’s rest” Thursday. 

It’s hard to envision Za’Darius Smith playing Sunday given how the Packers treated injuries last season. Adams, Billy Turner and Aaron Jones were among key starters held out for precautionary reasons in 2020. Regardless, LaFleur said it was premature to rule out his two-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker. 

“I wouldn’t say (he had) a setback,” LaFleur said, “but he’s feeling some things (in his back). So we thought it was in the best interest to leave him out, and give him the next 48 hours to kind of prove whether or not he can go out there and play.” 

Lofty goals

There was no hesitation from special teams coach Maurice Drayton when he was asked what he liked about new punter Corey Bojorquez.

“Hang time,” Drayton said. “Did I say hang time? Hang time. Definitely, hang time.”

That is one thing the Packers couldn’t consistently get out of JK Scott and so after two years, they cut him and traded with the Los Angeles Rams to acquire Bojorquez. The left-footed punter led the NFL in average with a 50.8-yard mark for the Buffalo Bills last year, but what Drayton liked was that if he boomed a punt, it usually had enough height that the cover team could get down field.

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He said it’s natural for a punter to want his distance to match his hang time. For instance, a punt that travels 45 yards should hang for 4.5 seconds. With Bojorquez, he thinks he can do better.

“Our goal is to make a standard to exceed that,” Drayton said. “If we’re 45 yards, we want that hang time to be 4.7 or greater.”

Drayton said he was comfortable with the way Bojorquez handles punting inside the 20-yard line and said he has “a toolbox of kicks that returners will have to be prepared for.”

Barry anticipating rough patches

In the first year in his defensive system, coordinator Joe Barry said there will be some hiccups in the early going.

The players have not had anyone scheme against them the way Saints coach Sean Payton will Sunday, so there are going to be times when they might react incorrectly to a certain route or blocking scheme.

The reason Barry isn’t up at night worrying about it is that he feels he has a veteran group that won’t panic and can make corrections as the game goes along. How well Barry conveys those changes will matter a lot, but he feels he has the type of players who will pick things up as they go along.

“That's where you feel really good because things aren't always going to be happy and sweet and rosy through the course of a 60-minute NFL football game. It's going to be hard, it's going to be a grind.

“And of course, there's going to be things that aren't going to go our way. But that's the beautiful thing. We’ll come over on the sideline and talk about it, go in at halftime and make adjustments and talk about it. And then we grind through it.”