GREEN BAY — After seeing very limited action in last Sunday’s season-opening loss to the New Orleans Saints — and with three full days between the end of that game and the Green Bay Packers’ first true practice of the work week — outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith did not take part in Thursday’s practice, leaving his role in Monday night’s game against the Detroit Lions in limbo.
Smith played just 18 of the 62 defensive snaps in the 38-3 loss to the Saints in Jacksonville, and his only play of consequence — a hit on Saints quarterback Jameis Winston that led to safety Darnell Savage’s end-zone interception — was wiped out by a questionable roughing-the-passer penalty called on him.
Smith finished the game with one tackle for a defense that gave up 171 rushing yards and rarely pressured Winston, who finished the game without being sacked and having absorbed just three QB hits while throwing five touchdown passes and recording a 130.8 passer rating.
LaFleur predicted before practice Thursday that Smith would not participate — “Yeah, I don’t think you’ll see Z out at practice today,” he said — and that turned out to be the case. Asked if he wasn’t participating in practice because of his back injury or something else, LaFleur stammered slightly before replying, “It has everything to do with the back.”
Smith started training camp on the non-football injury list because of the back injury, but LaFleur acknowledged last week he doesn’t know when exactly it occurred. Smith took part in one practice on a very limited basis during training camp, then practiced again on a limited basis last week for two days before sitting out Friday’s practice.
Smith has yet to meet with reporters since training camp began on July 27, so he hasn’t been asked about the injury or any unhappiness he is feeling beyond his physical well-being. As for playing time, Smith played 858 regular-season snaps last year (83.5%) and 872 (83.9%) in 2019.
Asked if Smith will continue to play limited snaps, LaFleur replied: “We’re not going to play him as much as we’d like to until we know that he’s healthy enough to do that. Until he can practice on a daily basis, it’s hard to say that he’s 100%.”
Smith had been seeking a long-term contract extension during the offseason but did not get one. Instead, the Packers restructured his deal to create salary-cap space and converted his base salary to a signing bonus so they could spread the cap charge out beyond 2021. Smith wound up getting paid $10 million of the $14.76 million in signing bonus money as camp began after the Packers adjusted his contract to give him more of the money immediately.
With a $28 million cap number for 2022, Smith’s future in Green Bay, despite leading the team in sacks and quarterback pressures each of his first two seasons with the Packers, is in doubt. He also was unhappy when his teammates did not select him as a team captain last week after he’d been a captain in 2019 and 2020.
In response, Smith posted on his Instagram account earlier this week an artist’s rendering of what appears to be a diamond-encrusted captain’s C — like the uniform patch captains wear on their jerseys — that he had evidently commissioned from a jeweler.
When Smith’s apparent displeasure with not being elected was mentioned to quarterback Aaron Rodgers Thursday afternoon, Rodgers responded with a long answer about leadership and the different styles various players can employ. Within that answer, he emphasized that the players vote on the captains, and on defense, Kenny Clark, Adrian Amos and Jaire Alexander were chosen.
Safety Darnell Savage, who injured his shoulder while returning an end-zone interception that was wiped out by that roughing-the-passer penalty on Smith, did take part in Thursday’s practice on a limited basis — a good sign that he will be able to play against the Lions.
Meanwhile, starting center Josh Myers (finger) was listed as a full participant, while defensive lineman Tyler Lancaster (back/ankle) and safety Vernon Scott (hamstring) were limited. Scott had been sidelined since late in training camp.
Tight end Josiah Deguara and guard Lucas Patrick are both in the concussion protocol and did not practice.
Defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery has tested positive for COVID-19, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. Montgomery, who is vaccinated along with the rest of the Packers’ coaching staff, was not at practice.
LaFleur declined comment when asked if Montgomery was the only positive test the team had — ”I don’t want to talk about people’s personal health,” he said — but did indicate the NFL did not think Montgomery was infected by commiserating with the Saints coaches after the game. New Orleans had six coaches and one player test positive after Sunday’s win over the Packers.
“They emailed us and told us who those people could potentially be,” LaFleur said of any possible close contacts with the Saints staff. “But there were no high-risk close contacts based on what the league told us.”
Photos: Packers' 2021 season in pictures
Check out photo galleries from every game of 2021 from the preseason through the end of the regular season and the playoffs.
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