The Green Bay Packers could be getting some incredible injury news coming off their bye next week — that is, depending on how you read Za’Darius Smith’s latest message to his fans.
After months of mystery about whether the Packers’ All-Pro outside linebacker would have a chance of playing again in 2021, Smith shared a picture of him smiling in his Packers jersey to his Instagram on Thursday, December 2, and hinted he may be close to returning to the field with the caption: “It’s About That Time.”
For anyone familiar with Smith’s injury situation, there seems to be only one interpretation of a picture and caption like that. Smith was shut down in the middle of September with a nagging back injury that forced him to get surgery a few months ago, but the 29-year-old pass rusher has been slowly working toward a potential return in the background of their 9-3 campaign. He even teased his recovery progress at the end of October on social media, telling fans he was back in Green Bay and felt “like a new man” since his back procedure.
The Packers, however, have tempered expectations when it comes to Smith’s potential return. While they have not once ruled out the possibility of him coming back later in the year, they have also not shared many details about his recovery or their outlook on getting him back. The most that head coach Matt LaFleur has said about the possibility was, “There’s always a chance.”
Still, it would be invaluable for the Packers to get one of their All-Pros back in the mix for the final five-game stretch of the season. Rashan Gary and Preston Smith have done a good job of leading the group in Smith’s absence, but the season-ending loss of Whitney Mercilus in Week 10 leaves them thin at the position with only young and inexperienced options to step up. If it really is “about that time” again for Smith, the stars might be aligning for the Packers.
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Smith Could Get Ramp-Up Period After Return
Smith’s Instagram post would certainly seem to suggest he is close to getting back on the field, but even if the Packers designate him for return as soon as they emerge from their bye week, it is likely he will need a few weeks of practice before actually getting a chance to play again.
Make no mistake, Smith has been an absolute game-wrecker for the Packers with an outrageous 32 sacks and 164 total pressures over his first two seasons in Green Bay. He is also no doubt eager to resume his dominance for their defense given his desire to sign a contract extension with the team before entering the final year of his deal in 2022.
At the same time, the Packers have acted in the best interest of the season-long picture in recent years, meaning they will gladly show patience with working back their best players if it means having them ready to go for an eventual playoff run. David Bakhtiari has been a prime example as another All-Pro talent who has been back on the active roster since November 10 but has still not played as the team’s medical staff looks to ensure he is 100% recovered from his torn ACL.