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GREEN BAY, Wis. – First came left tackle David Bakhtiari and center Josh Myers. Now, Za’Darius Smith could be the next key player to return to the Green Bay Packers in time for the playoffs.
The second-team All-Pro outside linebacker from a year ago will train this week during the top-seeded Packers’ first round goodbye, and if all goes well, he can play for the first time since the season opener. Smith played only 18 snaps in the regular season – all in Week 1 against the New Orleans Saints – and then underwent back surgery for a problem that plagued him during training camp.
“I want to dampen expectations,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said Monday. “Here’s a guy who’s not practiced since really that New Orleans fight. We’ll get him back out there and see what he looks like, see what kind of form he’s in. If he goes ahead and checks all the boxes, then he must “I’m back on the field.”
With 13.5 sacks in 2019 and 12.5 in 2020, Smith was one of only three players with 12 plus sacks each in those two seasons, joining Aaron Donald and TJ Watt.
Smith is still to be appointed to return from injured reserve. That would probably happen Wednesday before training.
The defense could also get another second-team All-Pro back from last year in cornerback Jaire Alexander. He has not played since his shoulder injury in week 4. He could have been on his way to returning last week, but landed on the reserve / covid-19 list.
Bakhtiari made his season debut on Sunday against the Lions, where he played 27 snaps in his first action since tearing an ACL more than a year ago. Myers also returned and played for the first time since a knee injury in Week 6. A third offensive linebacker could also return in right tackle Billy Turner, who missed the last four games of the regular season due to a knee injury.
“I think he will be back at some point this week, but as far as he will be out there on Wednesday, I will be able to update you guys on that on Wednesday,” LaFleur said of Turner.
The biggest injury issue this week surrounds receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who dropped out of Sunday’s game in Detroit due to a back injury. LaFleur said he was not sure if Valdes-Scantling would train this week.
LaFleur said he planned to get the top-seeded Packers some work outdoors in the cold weather to prepare for the Jan. 22 or 23 NFC division playoff game at Lambeau Field. The Packers worked inside all of last week to prepare for the Lions.