Green Bay hopes to get its Pro Bowl edge rusher back healthy Wes Hodkiewicz
GREEN BAY - The Packers plan to "shut down" Pro Bowl edge rusher Za'Darius Smith due to a lingering back injury, according to Head Coach Matt LaFleur.
The 6-foot-4, 272-pound linebacker has been dealing with the issue since starting training camp on the non-football injury list. Smith returned for one practice on Aug. 16 but was again sidelined until last Monday.
After not practicing on Friday, Smith played 18 of 60 defensive snaps Sunday's loss to the New Orleans Saints. Asked about Smith's availability for Friday's padded practice, LaFleur said the team's star pass-rusher was headed to injured reserve.
"Unfortunately, we're going to have to shut him down for a while," LaFleur said. "It's a matter of just, do you keep him in a limited role? Or do you shut him down for a while, try to get him healthy and then get him up to the snap count that we'd like him to be, just like he's been in the past, 'cause he's such an impact player. So, that's just the route that we thought was best long term."
In his first two seasons with the Packers, Smith amassed 107 tackles, 26 sacks and five forced fumbles. His 26 sacks are the most by a player in his first two seasons (2019-20) with the Packers and tied for third in the NFL in sacks over the last two seasons (2019-20).
Without Smith, the Packers will turn to Preston Smith and Rashan Gary to carry the edge-rushing load, with Jonathan Garvin and Chauncey Rivers likely to see a spike in playing time, as well.
Gary, a first-round pick in 2019, had 35 tackles, 11 quarterback hits and five sacks a year ago, while playing 44% of the defensive snaps.
"Rashan is a guy that, first of all, his approach is spot-on in terms of just the effort that he gives each and every day," LaFleur said. "Every rep, he goes 100 miles an hour. I think you can feel that affect not only in practice, but in the games. And we just need to continue for him to keep that upward trajectory that he's been one."
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