“I take it as an honor” said the Packers 6th round 2011 draft pick D.J. Smith who now counts himself amongst the 45 active come game day. The inside linebacker’s NFL career began Thursday in grand fashion as the Super Bowl defending champions welcomed the 2010 Super Bowl Champion Saints to Lambeau Field. “Show up, play hard and win big,” are the orders from Coach Mike McCarthy explains Smith, who currently sees time on the kick coverage unit, “predominantly right now my role is a special teams player and if something happens and I get called upon, I’ll be ready to fill that role.”
Smith’s pre-season performance included 19 total tackles ranking him second overall in the NFC amongst rookies. The former Appalachian State product credits his strong pre-season to his “instinct to get to the ball, and just having fun and relaxing. Just enjoying the fact of putting the NFL jersey on, that Green bay helmet on; taking every play like it is your last; that’s what really helped me in the success and in the tackles.” Along side the 19 tackles, the promising rookie also registered 1.5 sacks, “I didn’t get chance to blitz a whole lot in my college scheme, that 3-4 scheme is all about pressure, to get in there and get my first sack,” in the fourth quarter against the Indianapolis Colts and Dan Orlovsky, “it felt good.”
After the Packers parted ways with Nick Barnett and Brandon Chillars during the off-season, the linebacker core was an area of some question having not had OTA’s due to the lockout. “I was just in there grinding it out with Coach Winston Moss, getting it down pat so I’ll be comfortable and just play fast and make a lot of plays,” said Smith. “It’s a great opportunity,” recognized the rookie, “you saw they let a couple of veteran guys go. As for me, I just looked at it as another opportunity to just get better and just take advantage of my opportunity and just make the squad.”
Also on the squad this year is fellow rookie, third round pick Randall Cobb. “He’s fast explosive, gets out of cuts real well. He’s going to be a great returner in this league for a long time.” The Packers definitely found their much needed upgrade on special teams and Cobb provides an excellent test in practice for Smith and the kick coverage unit who will have the difficult task of defending against the Saints new return man Darren Sproles. “[Sproles] is a terrific athlete, you got to pay attention to him, you can’t ignore the fact that what he’s done in the past. We’ll keep an eye on him …and just play sound defense.”
The Packers defeated the Saints 42-34 at Lambeau Field on opening night of the NFL 2011 season. Smith registered 2 tackles playing on special teams kick coverage.