Za’Darius Smith Placed On IR
The Packers placed outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith on IR and signed La’Darius Hamilton off Tampa Bay’s practice squad to replace him on the 53-man roster. Aside from their position and the sound of their first names, there’s nothing similar about the two players. Smith is an All-Pro with 26 sacks the past two seasons; Hamilton, who was signed as an undrafted free agent by Dallas in 2020, has yet to take a snap in an NFL game.
Smith practiced only three times all summer because of a back injury, and while he tried to play in the opener against the Saints, he was limited to 18 fairly ineffective snaps. The Packers are hopeful that shutting the 29-year-old down for a minimum of three weeks will allow him to return fully healthy later in the season. In the meantime, a struggling defense will be without its most impactful pass rusher until at least early next month. Former No. 1 pick Rashan Gary, who played well last Sunday, will replace Smith in the starting lineup. Young backups Jonathan Garvin, Chauncey Rivers, and now Hamilton will get a chance to prove their worth in the coming weeks.
Hamilton is blessed with prototypical size (6’3, 260) for the position, and he used it to do a solid job against the run in the preseason – albeit against deep reserves. The former North Texas star showed good balance and point-of-attack strength to control blockers and set the edge with force. What he didn’t show was much explosiveness as a pass rusher, although he did manage a sack against Houston. Hamilton exhibited some tightness in his hips redirecting, and he lacked initial burst off spots, which reinforced the pedestrian 7.66-second 3-cone drill he ran at the Combine. Based on the 50 plays I watched from last month, it wouldn’t surprise me if Hamilton eventually moves ahead of Garvin and Rivers on the depth chart, but it’s hard to imagine that happening for at least a month or two.
On this play from August, Hamilton (#59) does a nice job of avoiding the pulling right guard (#77) and holding the running back to a 2-yard gain.
The injury to Smith is further proof of just how important it is for a team to take advantage of every opportunity and why the Packers should still be kicking themselves for blowing the NFC championship game last January. The 2020 team didn’t place a single significant starter on injured reserve until David Bakhtiari tore his ACL in practice between weeks 16 and 17. With the perennial All-Pro left tackle still on the physically unable to perform list, the Packers will now be without two of their five best players for the rest of September and an undetermined amount of October.
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