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Like 'fine wine,' Preston Smith still setting the tone in Year 10

Packers defensive end excited to get to work with Jeff Hafley

DL Preston Smith
DL Preston Smith

GREEN BAY – Preston Smith has never cared about the number attached to his age in his NFL biography.

Not in Year 1 and definitely not Year 10.

To the Packers' veteran defensive lineman, it's always been about how he feels on Sundays. After a decade spent in the trenches, Smith is still going strong at 31 years young.

"I really be thinking I'm 29 and 28 sometimes. I feel like I'm aging backwards," Smith said. "But when y'all keep reminding me I'm in my 30s, I start to really feel old. But I feel good, personally."

Smith is technically the only player on the Packers' 90-man roster whose age doesn't begin with a "2," but the 6-foot-5, 265-pound edge rusher has shown few signs of slowing down.

Coming off his sixth season with at least eight sacks, Smith enters the 2024 season tied with Ezra Johnson (41½) for the sixth-most sacks in Green Bay's team annals dating back to sacks becoming an official statistic in 1982.

It's been a productive five-year partnership between the Packers and Smith, who was one of General Manager Brian Gutekunst's first marquee free-agent additions. Since his arrival in 2019, Smith has been a portrait of durability and professionalism.

A veteran of 146 regular-season games, Smith has missed just one NFL contest in nine seasons, which was done mostly out of precaution during Week 7 of the 2021 season because of an oblique injury.

His sturdiness isn't a coincidence. Known for his strict recovery process, Smith is most often found either in the cold tub or sauna after every practice.

"Of course, being an older guy, they feel like you start to get fragile and it's not like that." Smith said. "I'm like fine wine. I'm getting better with age, as we can see, and I'm just happy to be here. I'm just happy to work with these guys."

While not one to draw attention to himself, Smith has been one of the prominent voices in the locker room throughout his time in Green Bay. He mentored 2019 first-round pick Rashan Gary for two seasons before the former Michigan standout joined Smith in the starting lineup in 2021.

When Gary missed the latter half of the 2022 season due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament, Smith helped fifth-round pick Kingsley Enagbare gain a foothold in the defense during his seven starts as a rookie.

"Preston is the heartbeat, man," Gary said. "Everybody feeds off him. When Preston talks, everybody be quiet and listen because when 10 years talk, he's coming from experience and understanding. That's what P brings."

Smith's 10th year in the NFL will have a different vibe to it, as former Boston College head coach Jeff Hafley takes over Green Bay's defense.

With the Packers making a switch to a 4-3 base under Hafley, Smith will primarily rush from a three-point stance for the first time since his final season with Washington in 2018.

Smith sees the transition as more of an opportunity than an obstacle. He's excited to work with Hafley after a recent conversation with close friend Richard Sherman, a five-time All-Pro cornerback who played for Hafley with the San Francisco 49ers in 2018.

"He spoke highly of him," said Smith of Sherman. "Sherm's a good friend of mine. If one of my friends loves you, I love you. I was always impressed with Jeff Hafley and his system and what they were telling me about it before we went to camp.

"Now actually running those plays and getting out there on the field with these guys, I'm loving the system a whole lot more."

Smith feels he still has plenty left to achieve, both individually and as a team. He made back-to-back NFC title games during his first two seasons in Green Bay and came close to another this past year.

Could this be the year Smith and the Packers make the jump? The eldest player on Green Bay's roster doesn't see why not. Asked to describe the current feel of this team, Smith offers just one word: Electrifying.

"It's always the goal of mine to make Year 10 and now that I'm here, it's always a goal to just keep on chopping," Smith said. "I got so many opportunities and I still feel like I got so much ball left in me. I feel like I got a lot of gas left in the tank and I still have an opportunity to make big plays and play for a long time in this league."

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