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Packers Return to Practice; So Does Za’Darius Smith

The Green Bay Packers' Pro Bowl outside linebacker had been out for three weeks since his one and only practice of training camp.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – On Aug. 16, Green Bay Packers defensive star Za’Darius Smith practiced for the one and only time during training camp.

On Monday, with the season-opening game against the New Orleans Saints less than a week away, Smith returned to practice.

Shortly after coach Matt LaFleur said “we’re hopeful” when asked if Smith would practice this week, Smith took part in individual drills as the team got to work after three days off. Once group drills started, Smith stood beside outside linebackers coach Mike Smith as Rashan Gary and Preston Smith took reps.

Training camp started on July 28 with Smith on the non-football injury list with a back injury. On the 16th day of camp, Smith was activated from NFI and made his brief return. Exactly three weeks later, Smith returned again.

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The Packers need him to be healthy and stay healthy. He had 13.5 sacks in 2019, his first season with the team, and recorded 12.5 sacks and a career-high five forced fumbles last season. He’s made the Pro Bowl team in each of his two seasons with the Packers.

LaFleur kept most of his starters blanketed in bubble wrap during the preseason. Thus, with the notable exception of All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari, he’ll take a mostly healthy roster into the opener in Jacksonville against the Saints. The only player not to practice on Monday was safety Vernon Scott (hamstring). Defensive tackle Tyler Lancaster, Smith and Scott were the only players to not practice last week. Lancaster also was back on Monday.

“I’d say we’re fairly healthy,” LaFleur said before practice. “For the most part, most of the guys are available. That’s what we wanted to do, is making sure that the guys who needed the work out there in the preseason, they got the work. Some of our veteran guys, we chose not to play them so that they were hopefully 100 percent for Week 1.”