GREEN BAY – If Desmond Bishop’s calf strain turns out to be an issue that lingers, then D.J. Smith is at the ready.
If Bishop recovers quickly and joins the Green Bay Packers’ training-camp practices sooner rather than later, well, Smith is ready for that, too.
It wasn’t that long ago that it was Bishop trapped on the inside linebacker depth chart behind Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk. Now, it’s Smith, the second-year man from Appalachian State who started three games in place of an injured Bishop last season and worked with the No. 1 defense in Bishop’s spot for the opening practice of camp Thursday. Bishop, whom the Packers placed on the non-football injury list after flunking his physical with a calf injury, hurt himself training on his own last weekend, coach Mike McCarthy said.
“As a competitor, you want to play, but at the same time, that’s Coach’s call. Whatever he wants me to do, play special teams, whatever he needs me to do just to be part of the 53, I’m willing to do it,” Smith said after practice. “Mentally, just stay in the playbook and just be a pro about it – go about your business the right way. And if your number’s called, be ready.”
Smith certainly was ready Thursday, picking off an Aaron Rodgers pass across the middle – much to the delight of his defensive teammates and to the chagrin of the NFL MVP, who enters the season as the NFL’s all-time leader in lowest interception percentage (1.2 percent).
“D.J. is a guy who might fool you by his size, but he makes a ton of plays out there. He’s really smart,” Rodgers said of Smith, who’s listed at 5-foot-11. “When you can work with a guy like A.J. Hawk who knows the defense so well, that can only help you.
“D.J.’s a playmaker. I think the one thing you really have to give him credit for, as you’ve got to give a guy like Ryan Taylor credit for, is those guys came in last year and realized the way to make this team is on special teams. Those guys were huge contributors last year on special teams. Look for more of that this year, and maybe some more time on the defense.”
Smith admitted to being slightly nervous for Thursday’s practice and said the interception did the trick.
“First day, you want to get those jitters out. You want to be in the right place at the right time,” he said. “That’s what worked out for me today.”
A 2011 sixth-round pick, Smith had 38 tackles and an interception while filling in for the injured Bishop at the “Mack” inside linebacker spot last year. While inside linebackers coach Winston Moss hasn’t given him any indication that he is on the verge of beating out one of the incumbents, he may not be that far below them on the depth chart, either.
“You’ve got to be excited about him. He came in last year without an offseason, and by the end of the year had a substantial grasp of this defense to where we obviously felt comfortable putting him in,” Moss said. “He’s in a tough position where he has guys in front of him that have stripes. He will have to continue to work hard and do the things that we’re asking him to do, and if he wants to play more, he’s going to have to take somebody’s job. It’s as simple as that.”
Said Smith: “I feel real confident. I’ve always believed myself, I know coach Moss believes in me, coach McCarthy and the guys upstairs, so I just go in, put my head down and play hard.”
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