The Green Bay Packers are hoping to have star pass rusher Za’Darius Smith back in time for the playoffs.
And there’s encouraging news today.
According to The Athletic’s Matt Schneidman, head coach Matt LaFleur said that Smith will return to practice today. This opens the possibility for him to return from injured reserve in time for the playoffs.
Smith was injured throughout training camp due to a back issue. While he did play in the season-opening defeat to the New Orleans Saints, he was limited and looked nowhere near his best. Smith hasn’t played since and has spent most of the season on injured reserve.
In his place, Rashan Gary has put together a breakout third year with 9.5 sacks. He’s taken a huge step forward. Preston Smith has also played well with nine sacks.
But getting back an All-Pro pass rusher will help this defense tremendously.
Since signing with the Packers in 2019, Smith has been one of the best edge defenders in the NFL. In his first two seasons with the team, he made 26 sacks and 60 QB hits, being voted to the Pro Bowl twice and named a second-team All-Pro in 2020.
It’s possible he won’t have a full-time role immediately, which is understandable after missing so much time. But even in a limited role on obvious passing downs, Smith is a game-changing talent and it would be no surprise if he won a playoff game for the Packers due to a forced fumble or a key sack.
Nothing is confirmed, yet. It’s still no guarantee Smith will be ready to make his return for next week’s divisional round, but this sure is a good sign. With a week-and-a-half still to go, the fact Smith is back on the practice field is encouraging.
Hopefully, Smith will be one of many injured Packers returning in time for the postseason.