Packers place OLB Za'Darius Smith on IR due to back issue

GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN - AUGUST 14: Za'Darius Smith #55 of the Green Bay Packers runs onto the field during warmups before the preseason game against the Houston Texans at Lambeau Field on August 14, 2021 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Patrick McDe

The back issue that bothered Green Bay outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith throughout the preseason will now force the Packers to play without their Pro Bowl pass rusher for the next few weeks.

Packers coach Matt LaFleur said Friday that Smith will be going on injured reserve, which means he will miss at least the next three games. The Packers host the Detroit Lions on Monday night.

Smith, who has 26 sacks for the Packers over the last two seasons, practiced just one day during training camp. He played only 18 snaps in the Packers’ 38-3 season-opening loss to the New Orleans Saints.

"It’s a matter of just, do you keep him in a limited role?" LaFleur said. "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, because he’s such an impact player? So, that’s just the route that we thought was best long term."

The loss of Smith is a major blow for a defense that’s trying to bounce back from a dismal performance. The Packers allowed the Saints to score five touchdowns and one field goal in their first seven possessions.

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Smith, 29, had 13 ½ sacks for Green Bay in 2019 after spending his first four NFL seasons with the Baltimore Ravens. He followed that by making 12 ½ sacks last season.

"He’s a game wrecker," LaFleur said.

The Packers still have a couple of productive outside linebackers in Preston Smith and 2019 first-round draft pick Rashan Gary. Preston Smith, who isn’t related to Za’Darius Smith, had 12 sacks in 2019 but just four last year.

But their lack of depth at that position is a major concern.

Green Bay’s next two outside linebackers are 2020 seventh-round draft pick Jonathan Garvin and Chauncey Rivers, who signed with the Packers this summer after playing one game for the Baltimore Ravens as a rookie last year. Garvin played 27 snaps and Rivers played 11 snaps against New Orleans.

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LaFleur said Friday the Packers are in the process of signing an additional outside linebacker from another team’s practice squad.

"As far as Rivers and Garvin, yeah, they’re going to have to contribute," LaFleur said. "They’re going to have to contribute in a big way."

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