Packers to put OLB Za’Darius Smith on IR with back injury

Green Bay will be without one of its top defensive players for at least three weeks.

Coach Matt LaFleur announced Friday that linebacker Za’Darius Smith would go on injured reserve due to a back injury.

“We’re going to have to shut him down for a while,” LaFleur said. “It’s a matter of 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 we’d like him to be, like he’s been in the past because he’s such an impact player. It’s the route that we thought was best long term.”

Smith missed most of training camp due to the back injury. He was listed as questionable for last week’s season opener against New Orleans but ended up playing. The Packers used him mostly in third-down situations and he was on the field for 18 snaps.

“No, I think we’re comfortable with the decisions,” LaFleur said when asked if he regretted playing Smith last week. “It’s just one of those deals where you want him more readily available, and we feel like this is the best way to allow that to happen. He’s going to have to rehab hard, and hopefully over time, it’s just one of those injuries where you just never quite know.”

A free agent addition prior to the 2019 season, Smith led the team in sacks in each of the last two years, racking up a total of 26.

“He’s a disruptive force. He’s a he’s a game wrecker,” LaFleur said when asked what they’ll miss without him. “Certainly, I think he’s a guy that the the offense has to account for on every play, where he’s at, where he is aligned, how are you going to protect against a guy like that. Because if you give him those one-on-one matchups, he can make you pay. He’s certainly proven his worth over the last couple of years. And even prior to coming here, just how dominant and such a force he can be.”

Without him, there will be more expected out of fellow outside linebackers Preston Smith, Rashan Gary, Jonathan Garvin and Chauncey Rivers. The club is also adding Ladarius Hamilton from Tampa Bay’s practice squad to bolster the position, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Tom Silverstein.