The Green Bay Packers don’t want anyone to be alarmed about All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari not participating in OTAs, but they still can’t say for certain whether he will be back on the field when training camp in a few months.
Packers head coach Matt LaFleur told reporters on May 31 that Bakhtiari will not be participating in workouts this spring as the team continues to prioritize his recovery from a torn ACL, but he added their veteran blindside blocker is “close” to getting back on the field and will “hopefully” be ready for the start of camp toward the end of July.
“Our plan all along was to hold him from this time of year and just make sure he’s continuing to get stronger and ready to go hopefully in time for training camp,” LaFleur said. “Yeah, (he’s close). I mean, he’s been close. He was out there in a game, but it’s just part of our process right now.”
LaFleur also seemed to confirm the decision to rest Bakhtiari during OTAs was based more on their interest in playing things safe as opposed to there being lingering concern about the long-term impact of his knee injury. That’s encouraging given their franchise left tackle has not played a full game since Week 16 of the 2020 season, but it remains to be seen if he will be ready to go on Day 1 of this year’s camp.
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Bakhtiari Continues Long Road to Recovery
The Packers suffered a devastating loss when Bakhtiari tore his ACL in a non-contact drill in practice on New Year’s Eve in 2020 — one that haunted them in the NFC championship game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers several weeks later — but even pessimists originally expected his injury to keep him sidelined for as long as it has.
Despite getting activated from the reserve/physically unable to perform (PUP) list on November 11, Bakhtiari only managed to play once in the Packers’ regular-season finale against the Detroit Lions and got pulled from the game after playing just 24 offensive snaps due to fatigue, as LaFleur later revealed in the postgame. He was then declared inactive for the Packers’ divisional-round playoff game against San Francisco, putting them in a woeful situation where they chose to move Billy Turner to left tackle and start Dennis Kelly at right tackle.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Packers are still using words like “hopefully” when estimating Bakhtiari’s return to the field after more than 17 months. That’s hardly comforting given that Bakhtiari will be nearly 19 months removed from his injury when training camp opens toward the end of July. Now, it could be the Packers are simply being cautious with his status and refusing to commit to anything until the time comes, but his long-term status with the team could (rightfully) come into question if he isn’t back to 100% in time for camp.
Nijman Remains Next-Man Up at LT
For as long as Bakhtiari remains out of practice, the next-man-up at left tackle would appear to be Yosh Nijman. The 26-year-old offensive tackle started eight games for the Packers in 2021 while both Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins were out with injuries and has since moved up the seniority list following the departures of Turner and Kelly this offseason. With Jenkins also recovering from an ACL injury, Nijman will head into mandatory minicamp as the Packers’ most experience tackle in the lineup.
There are some younger tackles in position to push him, though.
The Packers have second-year guard/tackle candidates in Royce Newman — who started 16 games at right guard as a rookie — and Cole Van Lanen to consider for bigger roles throughout offseason and preseason workouts. They also drafted a new tackle in both the third and seventh rounds (Sean Rhyan and Rasheed Walker) and signed an undrafted rookie (Caleb Jones) to further build up the position group. With Bakhtiari and Jenkins not involved in OTAs, there could be lots of opportunities for the new guys to make an impression and potentially overtake Nijman on the depth chart — or for Nijman to take another step toward becoming a full-time starter.