GREEN BAY – For seven years and four games, Preston Smith maintained a week-to-week approach with his profession. He kept his focus locked on the next opponent, the next challenge.
It wasn't until last month the Packers linebacker finally had a chance to breathe it all in. On his way to Lambeau Field for the Week 4 matchup against Pittsburgh, Smith received a text from his wife informing him of what he was about to achieve.
That meeting with the Steelers was the 100th consecutive regular-season game Smith played in the NFL, the second-longest streak among active pass rushers at the time.
"I guess they put something out on the internet and she's like, 'This is about to be your 100th game,'" Smith recalled after practice on Thursday. "I just started smiling like, 'Wow, I was never aware of it.'"
Smith pushed the streak to 102 straight before suffering an oblique strain in Chicago two weeks later. A testament to his toughness and durability, Smith still managed to get back on the practice field later the following week in the lead-up to the Packers hosting Smith's former team, Washington.
With mounting injuries at outside linebacker and the Packers readying to play two games in five days, Green Bay's doctors and training staff felt it was in both the best interest of the team and Smith for him to rest against Washington.
It marked the first time Smith had missed a game, at any level, since his junior year at Mississippi State…all the way back in October 2013. It was tough news to take but a conversation with All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari, currently working his way back from an ACL injury, helped Smith see the bigger picture.
"We were just talking about it. Just talking about missing a game with an injury," Smith said. "Having the streak I had and not being able to play due to an injury and being sidelined, he gave me some great words of encouragement."
The plan worked. After Green Bay pulled out the 24-10 win over Washington, Smith was cleared to return last Thursday in Arizona. He played 35 defensive snaps in the 24-21 win over the Cardinals, who came into the game undefeated at 7-0.
Even better, Smith experienced no setbacks with the oblique and was removed from the injury report entirely this week. He said after Thursday's padded practice: "I'm back to being me."
Preston isn't the only Smith the Packers are hoping to have on the field this season. Last week, the team welcomed back two-time All-Pro Za'Darius Smith, who continues to rehab from the back injury that's kept him on injured reserve since the opener.
The Smith Bros. have been the face of the Packers' pass rush since they signed with Green Bay, combining for 219 tackles, 100 quarterback hits and 42 sacks in two-plus seasons.
Za'Darius and Preston also have grown close away from the field. Prior to Preston's Thursday media session, Za'Darius jokingly lamented Preston was doing another news conference without him.
"Since he's been back, he's like a ball of energy – too much energy. I love it," said Preston, laughing. "It's great to have him around. He's smiling. He has this contagious energy.
"It's always great to be around a guy that I consider my brother on and off the field. It's great to have him back in Green Bay and great to have him back at the facility."
As the Packers' seventh-ranked defense prepares for another stiff test this Sunday against Kansas City, Preston hopes to build another lengthy streak to rival the 102 consecutive games he played to start his NFL career.
"I didn't know how long it would take to hit 100 games from the start but now I know it takes seven years and four games," said Preston, laughing. "I'm trying to revamp this streak and get it back and beat the first streak."