Through two games, Packers linebacker Za’Darius Smith (above) has impressed coaches and teammates with his play and his leadership — and that was before he treated the entire defense to dinner on Thursday night at Republic Chophouse, a steak joint in downtown Green Bay. Smith, elected as a team captain despite being in his first year with the Packers, wanted to celebrate the team’s 2-0 start and the defense being ranked second in scoring defense (9.5 points per game).
But, even after spending roughly $5,000 on his guys, Smith cautioned everyone that the defense can’t get complacent — a statement that doesn’t surprise head coach Matt LaFleur or defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.
“I said, ‘Guys we’re 2-0 but we haven’t arrived,’” Smith said. “To do little things like that (dinner), I feel like it’s good to bring the team together as far as the defense and we just get to know each other outside of football. I feel like one reason coach wanted me to be a captain and some of my teammates because they voted for me. I’m going to keep going with it and keep striving to be this leader and this captain for this team.”
Smith has led with his play, recording a sack, eight quarterback hits and 12 tackles in two games, stuffing the run and generating pressure on quarterbacks. But his leadership style has also been a welcome change.
“It’s as real as it gets. I mean, he’s just (gotten) instant respect,” Pettine said. “I think one of the reasons he is as respected as he is, is watching practice. He and (safety) Adrian (Amos) are probably two of the best practice players that I’ve been around.
“’Z’ is a big, explosive athlete. That's hard for offensive linemen. His fastball is a lot for offensive linemen to handle.”