Green Bay Packers LB Za'Darius Smith set to return for postseason after being out since Week 1 injury

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- First came left tackle David Bakhtiari and center Josh Myers. Now, Za'Darius Smith might be the next key player to return to the Green Bay Packers in time for the playoffs.

The second-team All-Pro outside linebacker from a year ago will practice this week during the top-seeded Packers' first-round bye, and if all goes well, he could play for the first time since the season opener. Smith played just 18 snaps in the regular season -- all in Week 1 against the New Orleans Saints -- and then underwent back surgery for an issue that plagued him during training camp.

"I want to kind of temper the expectations," Packers coach Matt LaFleur said Monday. "Here's a guy that hasn't practiced since really that New Orleans game. We'll get him back out there and see how he looks, see what type of shape he's in. If he progresses and checks all the boxes, then he'll be back out on the field."

With 13.5 sacks in 2019 and 12.5 in 2020, Smith was one of only three players with 12-plus sacks each in those two seasons, joining Aaron Donald and T.J. Watt.

Smith still has to be designated to return off injured reserve. That would likely happen on Wednesday before practice.

The defense also could get back another second-team All-Pro from last year in cornerback Jaire Alexander. He hasn't played since his Week 4 shoulder injury. He might have been on track to return last week but landed on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Bakhtiari made his season debut on Sunday against the Lions, playing 27 snaps in his first action since he tore an ACL more than a year ago. Myers also returned and played for the first time since a Week 6 knee injury. A third offensive line starter also could return in right tackle Billy Turner, who missed the past four games of the regular season because of a knee injury.

"I do think he'll be back at some point this week, but as far as will he be out there Wednesday, I'll be able to update you guys with that on Wednesday," LaFleur said of Turner.

The biggest injury question this week surrounds receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who dropped out of Sunday's game at Detroit because of a back injury. LaFleur said he wasn't sure if Valdes-Scantling would practice this week.

LaFleur said he planned to get the top-seeded Packers some work outdoors in the cold weather to prepare for the Jan. 22 or 23 NFC divisional playoff game at Lambeau Field. The Packers worked inside all last week to prepare for the Lions.