Packers boost pass rush by activating Za'Darius Smith and Whitney Mercilus
GREEN BAY - The Green Bay Packers are back to being a healthy football team and they will go into their divisional playoff game Saturday against the San Francisco 49ers with seven key players back from injury.
The latest are outside linebackers Za’Darius Smith and Whitney Mercilus, their veteran pass rushers who have not seen the field for a long time. Both were activated from injured reserve to the 53-man roster Friday, a day before the NFC divisional playoff game at Lambeau Field.
Smith last played in Week 1 against New Orleans, appearing in 18 snaps before a back injury worsened and resulted in him undergoing surgery. He has not played a down since and only returned to practice Jan. 12. The Packers’ leader in sacks the previous two years has had six days of work to get ready for his return.
It’s likely Smith won’t start, but he should serve a pass-rushing role, allowing him to team with starters Rashan Gary and Preston Smith on passing downs.
Mercilus, who tore his biceps against Seattle on Nov. 14, returned to practice the day after Smith. It was a surprise return after most people had counted him out for the season.
The veteran pass rusher added a nice compliment to Gary and Smith when he was healthy and now gives defensive coordinator Joe Barry a chance to load his third-down defense with pass rushers as well as lessen the effect when Gary and Smith are taking a rest.
Smith and Mercilus join Randall Cobb, Jaire Alexander, Billy Turner, David Bakhtiari and Josh Myers as players making their return after long absences due to injury. Bakhtiari and Myers are the only two who have played any snaps of late, taking around 30 snaps each in the season-ending loss to the Detroit Lions.
To make room for Smith and Mercilus on the 53-man roster, the Packers released defensive lineman Jack Heflin and cornerback Isaac Yiadom. It's likely the two will be signed to the practice squad if they clear waivers, which would make them available if the Packers advance in the playoffs.
The Packers did not activate anyone from the practice squad to the game day roster, which means that returner David Moore will not play Saturday. Moore, who was signed to the practice squad Dec. 30, played against Minnesota in Week 17 and returned three punts for 33 yards.'
He was on the reserve / COVID-19 list for the season-finale against Detroit and was cleared on Jan. 10.
Meanwhile, 49ers edge rusher Nick Bosa cleared the concussion protocol and will play Saturday.