GREEN BAY — Za’Darius Smith’s practice workload increased on Thursday, but the Green Bay Packers’ star edge rusher will still be a game-time decision on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints in Jacksonville.
And the veteran outside linebacker might not be very happy with how the voting went on team captains, either.
But first, Smith’s mysterious, lingering back injury, which kept him out of all of training camp except individual drills during one mid-August practice. His position coach, Mike Smith (no relation), said after Thursday’s practice that he had increased the player’s workload from “around seven to 10” team snaps to “around 18,” which certainly qualified as a step in the right direction for a guy who’s led the Packers in sacks and quarterback pressures each of the past two seasons.
“He had a good practice today,” Mike Smith said. “He felt good. It’s going to be one of those gameday-decision deals. We’ll see how he feels in the morning. It was just good to see him out there, to be honest with you. It’s definitely a difference when he’s out there. Just his physicality and who he is and his leadership and all that stuff. Guys play better when he’s out there. I was a better coach today when he was out there, for damned sure.”
On that leadership front, Za’Darius Smith wasn’t among the captains selected by his teammates in voting that was held Wednesday. On defense, safety Adrian Amos, defensive tackle Kenny Clark and cornerback Jaire Alexander were selected. On offense, it’ll be quarterback Aaron Rodgers, wide receiver Davante Adams and tight end Marcedes Lewis; on special teams, kicker Mason Crosby was chosen.
The Packers announced those selections via their Twitter account at 2:42 p.m. Central time. About 11 minutes later, Za’Darius Smith posted one word — “Wow” — alongside a thinking emoji.
Wow🤔— Za'Darius Smith (@zadariussmith) September 9, 2021
Told what his player had written, Mike Smith tried to make light of the cryptic post.
“The thing about Z is, he’s a team player,” Mike Smith said. “I don’t have the ‘Tweeter’ deal, but he did see how many wings the coaches eat on Thursday after practice. It was like about a thousand of them, so he might have been, ‘Wow,’ about that.
“But, Z, he’s a team guy. I think when you look at the captains and all that stuff, there’s a lot of captains on this team. There’s a lot of guys that lead. I don’t think that’s an issue. Just knowing Z, his mind’s going to be right. He’s an old-school, throwback-type guy, so I don’t see that as being an issue.”
Whether his back will be an issue is another matter, as coach Matt LaFleur said he would “absolutely” hold Za’Darius Smith out of Sunday’s game if necessary.
“Every game is so important in this league. However, it is a marathon. It is a long season,” LaFleur said. “We would never want to jeopardize the long term for the short term.”
‘Hang time’ key with Bojorquez
Special teams coordinator Maurice Drayton wanted to make sure he was clear about why he — and the personnel department — wanted to acquire new punter Corey Bojorquez to replace JK Scott after Scott spent three seasons in the job.
“Hang time. Hang time. Hang time. Strong leg. Hang time,” Drayton said. “Did I say hang time? Hang time. Yeah, hang time. Yeah, definitely hang time.”
Drayton was adamant because strong hang times usually translate to better net punting averages because they give would-be tacklers more time to get downfield to corral the opposing returner. And the comparison between Bojorquez’s net average last season (44.0 yards) and Scott’s (37.0) was striking.
“If we’re (at) 45 yards, we want that hang time to be 4.7 (seconds) or greater, so we can net all of that,” Drayton said. “It’s all about the net. Who cares about your gross? It’s about the net. So that’s what we’re focusing on.”
Photos: Packers' 2021 season in pictures
Check out photo galleries from every game of 2021 from the preseason through the end of the regular season and the playoffs.
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