GREEN BAY – The Packers’ fifth practice of training camp took place Monday at Ray Nitschke Field.
Here are five things we learned:
1. Preston Smith has a simple goal for 2021.
“Not to have that season again,” the veteran outside linebacker said, referring to his down year statistically in 2020. “To be better than I was last year.”
Smith went from posting 12 sacks (14 including playoffs) in his first year with the Packers in 2019 to just four last year, due to multiple reasons.
For one, Smith was asked to drop into coverage more in 2020, duty that Kyler Fackrell handled in ’19. But Fackrell departed as a free agent, while Rashan Gary’s increased playing time also took snaps, and rushing opportunities, away from Smith.
But Smith’s stated goal to not repeat last year is also a tacit acknowledgement he didn’t play as well as he could have, and he came into camp this year in better shape, having focused on cardio work in the offseason.
“He understands. He knows what’s in front of him and he’s a pro,” Head Coach Matt LaFleur said. “He’s been doing this a long time, so I think he’s put the work in and now he’s got to go out there and just do it.”
He’s also fired up to be reunited with Joe Barry, who was Washington’s defensive coordinator for Smith’s first two years in the NFL (2015-16). While Smith will continue to do whatever he’s asked in the scheme, he sounded on Monday like a guy expecting to be turned loose as a pass rusher more.
Thus far in camp, Smith and Gary have taken all the reps with the No. 1 defense while Za’Darius Smith remains out. The position took a hit on Monday when Randy Ramsey went down late in practice with a leg injury and had to be helped off the field.
“I feel like a lot of guys are going to shine in Joe’s system,” Preston said. “He knows what he’s doing. He knows how to put his playmakers in position to make plays. That’s why I love him so much.”
Smith also loves this Packers team, which was a big reason he decided to accept a pay cut via a restructured, incentive-laden contract to come back after a lot of external speculation swirled his time in Green Bay might be over after the off year.
“We came so close this past year and the year before. We’ve been to two NFC championships,” he said. “This is the farthest I’ve ever been in my career and I’ve been there twice – back-to-back years.
“I believe what we’ve got going around here. Everybody here believes the same thing: We can do it. We have a chance to do it.”