Vikings’ Za’Darius Smith Sends Packers’ Aaron Rodgers a Message Ahead of Opener

Za'Darius Smith

Getty Vikings outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith is eager to face former teammate Aaron Rodgers in Week 1 of the 2022 season.

Minnesota Vikings linebacker Za’Darius Smith gave a glimpse into what could be a nightmare for Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in eight weeks.

Smith posted a photo of him and fellow Pro Bowl edge rusher Danielle Hunter standing back-to-back, reminiscent of the “meet at the quarterback” mantra he’s hoping to embody against his former teammate in Rodgers in the season opener on September 11, the caption he added to the photo.

“I can’t wait to get a chance to face them the first game and see that look on Aaron Rodgers’ face when he sees me on the other side of the ball,” Smith said on The Rich Eisen Show in May. “…It’s going to be a, ‘It’s good to see you again, but now, it’s not at practice.’ ”

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‘They’re Going to Have to Fear Us’

After making two Pro Bowls in three seasons with the Packers, Smith reached an impasse with the organization due to his contract. It led to his release and eventual signing with the Vikings, which realized a dream come true for Hunter and him after the duo had talked about playing together during their Pro Bowl appearances.

“It’s going to be fun. I talked to Danielle Hunter yesterday that I was going to be coming here and signing and he was like, ‘Okay, now we can be one of the best duos in the league,’ ” Smith said in an introductory press conference in March. “A lot of quarterbacks, they’re going to have to fear us. It’s going to be good at the end, but we’re facing some great teams in the (NFC) North. Our main focus is to win the (NFC) North. To get in and help my teammates complete that, I’m all here for it.”

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But with both Hunter and Smith coming off 2021 campaigns that were cut short due to injury, the duo will strive to reassert themselves as one of the league’s most lethal pass-rushing duos.

If they can stay healthy, they should have no struggles meeting in the backfield.

The last time both played a full 16 games in 2019, Smith and Hunter were the league’s top two leaders in pressures. Smith posted an NFL-best 93 pressures, while Hunter was second with 88 pressures, per Pro Football Focus.


Smith Mentoring Raw, Second-Year Edge Rusher

While Smith and Hunter’s relationship has been highly publicized throughout the offseason, another edge rusher in the Vikings’ ranks has been working with Smith regularly throughout the offseason.

Janarius Robinson, a 2021 fourth-round pick out of Florida State, is coming off a disappointing rookie season where he landed on the injured reserve last August. Robinson earned high praise from former Viking defensive line coach Andre Patterson last season for his athletic ability.

During rookie minicamps, Patterson offered high praise to Robinson for his athletic ability and addressed Robinson’s struggles in college, where he was left in limbo amid many changes at Florida State.

“(Robinson’s) fast. He’s long. He’s powerful. He’s athletic. He’s got all of the traits and tools that you look for in a defensive end. At Florida State, I think he went through three head coaches. He went through four coordinators. He went through three defensive line coaches. They kept changing him from an outside linebacker to a defensive end. So it’s hard for you to grow with all that constant change,” Patterson said. “He’s got all the athletic traits that you look for… I always find that guy in the draft where I say, ‘man, I’d love to get my hands on this kid,’ and he’s the guy.”

Smith sees the potential in Robinson as well, taking him under his wing throughout his first offseason in purple and gold.

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