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GREEN BAY — Matt LaFleur is keeping hope alive that two of the Green Bay Packers’ best defensive players will play for the team again this season.

The Packers coach said Thursday outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith (back surgery) and cornerback Jaire Alexander (shoulder injury) are both making progress and the team is hopeful they’ll both return at some point — though it won’t be anytime soon, apparently.

Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur defended Jordan Love for his play against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Smith, who led the Packers in sacks over the past two seasons (26) and earned second-team All-Pro honors last year, has been sidelined since playing 18 snaps in the season-opening loss to the New Orleans Saints in Jacksonville. He arrived at training camp with a back injury that landed him on the non-football injury list, practiced briefly in camp and then was sidelined again. After playing against the Saints, he went on injured reserve and underwent surgery that, at the time, was thought to be potentially season-ending.

Smith returned to Green Bay two weeks ago and has been spotted at practices lately.

“There’s always a chance,” LaFleur said before practice. “But again, it’s a process. You’ve got to let that play itself out. We’ll see where we’re at in a few weeks.”

Alexander suffered his shoulder injury while making a tackle in the Packers’ Oct. 3 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers and has not played since. A second-team All-Pro last season, Alexander remains on IR but managed to avoid season-ending surgery.

“Ja’s been around quite a bit. And the plan is just to try to continue to strengthen and allow his shoulder to heal,” LaFleur said. “We’ll see where he’s at. It’s going good, but there’s still a long way out.”

Safety Darnell Savage said the Packers defense, which entered the week’s games ranked fifth in the NFL in total defense (321.2 yards per game) and sixth in scoring defense (20.0 points per game), has gotten an emotional lift from Smith and Alexander being engaged with the group even though they’re still a ways off from playing.

“Those are our brothers,” Savage said. “It’s always good to have them (around).”

Waiting on Bakhtiari

Franchise left tackle David Bakhtiari took part in practice and could make his season debut on Sunday, but that’s far from a sure thing at this point. The Packers listed him as a limited participant in practice.

“We’ve got to get through the week of practice, and you’ve got to string back-to-back-to-back days,” LaFleur said. “You’ve got to get into football shape and get multiple reps. Try to simulate a drive as best you can and just see how he responds. And when he’s ready to go, then he’ll be in the lineup.”

Defensive tackle Kenny Clark (back) and cornerback Eric Stokes (knee) were once again limited in practice, as was wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown (ankle). Tight end Dominique Dafney (hamstring) did not practice and appears unlikely to play against the Seahawks.

Defensive end Kingsley Keke, who missed last week’s game with a concussion and had struggled with post-concussion issues late in the season last year as well, was limited in practice but still remains in the concussion protocol, LaFleur said.

Extra points

LaFleur said quarterback Aaron Rodgers has “been in every meeting” and “been engaged” via Zoom videoconferencing all week, and while he won’t have any practice reps before Sunday, LaFleur and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett insisted that’s not a concern. “We’re fortunate to have a guy that has got a ton of reps under his belt, has played a ton of ball,” LaFleur said. “So we’re pretty confident that provided he checks out well (health-wise), he can go out there and play at a high level.” … Safety Adrian Amos downplayed the disappointment of the team missing out on wide receiver Odell Beckham on Thursday after Beckham picked the Los Angeles Rams over the Packers. “If he came, our goals would have been the same as that he’s not coming,” Amos said. “It’s all the same."

Photos: Packers' 2021 season in pictures

Check out photo galleries from every game of 2021 from the preseason through the end of the regular season and the playoffs.

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