Za’Darius and Preston Smith don’t spend much time away from each other when they come to work for the Green Bay Packers. Catching one without the other is rare, especially during media availabilities when the two often stand side by side and take questions together.
Nothing about that tradition changed for Thursday afternoon’s press conference looking ahead to Sunday’s NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, but they did get more questions than usual about their relationship as teammates — they call themselves the Smith Bros. — with most of their first season together behind them.
“It clicked right away,” Preston Smith said about how long it took for the two dynamic pass rushers to get used to one another. “We already had a chemistry of knowing each other and being cool with each other, so it was easy to come in and have that brother-like feel already.”
The two outside linebackers have certainly left their mark since joining the Packers in free agency, combining for 25.5 sacks and 31 tackles for loss during the regular season. Each of them also sacked Russell Wilson twice during the Packers’ 28-23 divisional playoff win over the Seattle Seahawks, but the roots of their brotherhood on and off the field go further back than just this season.
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Smiths Met Back in College Years
That connection runs back to their college days when each was playing at a different Mississippi school. After only playing football in his senior year of high school, Za’Darius Smith took the junior college route to East Mississippi Community College and got an opportunity to work with Preston’s Mississippi State squad while training to reach the FBS level.
While he confessed he originally thought he would end up playing with the Bulldogs, Za’Darius opted to transfer to Kentucky and ended up playing against Preston, but the two of them kept in touch and would chat in postgames. Because of their shared last name, they also ended up going through the NFL Combine process together in preparation for the 2015 draft.
While the Smiths predictably went different directions — Za’Darius to Baltimore, Preston to Washington — it only took several years for their paths to cross again in the NFL. It’s a part of the story Za’Darius prefers to tell.
“It’s time for free agency, and he’s a hot outside linebacker and I’m one also, so I was telling him, ‘Man, it would be crazy if we would end up on the same team.’ And this was, what, three days before signing? (“Yeah,” Preston confirms). And I get a call from my agent and he’s like, ‘You’re going to be playing with Preston Smith.'”
Smith Bros. Have Been Great for Packers’ Locker Room
Ever since arriving in Green Bay, the two Smiths have been model teammates not just to one another but to all of their fellow Packers. Aaron Rodgers has numerous times commended both of them for bringing energy and leadership into the locker room, something both of them insist is a byproduct of their strong ties.
“That is why this team is so unique now just because of little things like that,” Za’Darius Smith said. “I feel like when we come to work every day, man, guys see us and they want to have basically the same type of relationship, so I feel like that’s why this team is so close and why we’re doing so great right now.”
The Packers’ closeness will be tested like never before this Sunday night with a chance to redeem their worst loss of the season and punch their ticket to the Super Bowl.