One linebacker in, another one out.
The Green Bay Packers have officially signed former Dallas Cowboys inside linebacker Jaylon Smith and placed outside linebacker Chauncey Rivers on injured reserve in a pair of roster moves that were announced October 7, leaving one spot still available on their 53-man roster.
Smith’s signing was made official on Thursday afternoon after Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported earlier in the morning that he and the Packers had reached an agreement on a one-year deal that will pay him the veteran minimum of $770,000. While he has not yet practiced with the team, there is a chance he could be active and contribute during Week 5’s road game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
As for Rivers, the backup outside linebacker was added to the Packers’ injury report on October 6 with what Packers head coach Matt LaFleur described as a “pretty significant” knee injury that he sustained in practice. He had surprised coming out of training camp and making the team’s active roster, securing a rotational role behind Preston Smith and Rashan Gary with Za’Darius Smith dealing with a long-term back injury.
“It was just a freak thing in practice,” LaFleur told reporters on Thursday. “My heart goes out to him because he was doing a great job. He was battling, he was giving us snaps on defense, playing on special teams. He came to work every day with a great attitude, great mentality, was a great teammate in that locker room. You always feel for guys when they have to go through and they suffer a significant injury. I just hope he has a speedy recovery and he is able to pick up where he left off.”
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Barry Considered Rivers’ Rise a ‘Great Story’
Rivers, who gained some renown for his featured role in Netflix’s Last Chance U, earned a place on the Packers’ initial active roster against the odds this past summer.
The Packers had claimed him off the waivers from Baltimore on August 6 with two of their top four outside linebackers sidelined with injuries, including special-teams asset Randy Ramsey — who is expected to miss the remainder of the year with an ankle injury. As defensive coordinator Joe Barry explained it, the idea was that Rivers would offer them a “camp body” while they waited for Smith’s back to heal and might have a shot of sticking with them into 2021 as a member of their practice squad.
Instead, Rivers exceeded expectations and became a “great story” in Barry’s eyes.
“It was such a bummer because Chauncey, what a great story,” Barry said on October 7. “A kid that we signed as basically just a camp body who just busted his tail. He kind of had him earmarked for more of a practice-squad guy and with Z getting banged up, bam, he not only makes the team but (contributes).”
Barry also added: “Trust is such a big thing. You could have the greatest guy in the world. He could be assignment savvy in the classroom, he could do a great job in practice. But for you as a coach, you have to ultimately trust that guy to put him in the game as a position coach, and Chauncey earned that with (outside linebackers coach) Mike (Smith). Whether it was 10, 12, 15 snaps a game, he went in and did a great job for us.”
Rivers’ Injury Clears Way for La’Darius Hamilton
Losing a contributor is never a good thing, even when it is a guy like Rivers who is only playing a rotational role on defense (69 total snaps) and chipping in on special teams. The good news for the Packers is they won’t have to look hard for an outside linebacker to take over his reps and slide into the rotation with Smith, Gary and Jonathan Garvin.
With Rivers on injured reserve, La’Darius Hamilton is in line to play his first snaps for the Packers this week since getting signed off of Tampa Bay’s practice squad on September 17. He has been a healthy scratch in each of their past three games, but now — with several weeks of learning the system under his belt — it may finally be his time to see whether he can contribute, either on defense or special teams.
Hamilton has not yet played a regular-season snap in the NFL, coming into the league in 2020 as an undrafted rookie and spending every game on the Cowboys’ practice squad. He did, however, tally five solo tackles, four stops, two pressures and a sack across 59 total snaps in the preseason for the Buccaneers.
“Injuries, they happen, it’s part of the deal,” Barry said. “So, it’s next man up. There’s not a doubt in my mind that no matter who it is (in the rotation), they’re going to go in, they’ll (be) prepared. They’ve practiced well, now they’ve just got to go in and do their job and do it at a high level.”