Green Bay Packers tackle David Bakhtiari during rookie orientation camp practice in the Don Hutson Center,, Friday, May 10, 2013. H. Marc Larson/Press-Gazette Media
The Packers appear ready to take a long look at rookie David Bakhtiari as the replacement for injured left tackle Bryan Bulaga.
A source familiar with Bulaga’s injury and the Packers’ thinking said Bulaga sustained a season-ending torn anterior-cruciate ligament on Saturday night, and that the team seems inclined to play Bakhtiari at left tackle and keep Marshall Newhouse at right tackle.
Bakhtiari, a fourth-round draft pick, has been one of the surprises in training camp and in a week worked his way from playing mainly as a backup left tackle to competing with Newhouse for the starting job at right tackle. Though Newhouse started 29 games at left tackle the last two seasons before moving to right tackle in May, the Packers appear to think Bakhtiari is more talented and better suited to block pass rushers on quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ blind side.
Late last week and in the team’s Family Night scrimmage Saturday night, Bakhtiari started getting snaps with the No. 1 offense at right tackle and had quickly improving odds of beating out Newhouse for the starting job on that side had Bulaga not been injured.
“It was awesome to start working with the (starters),” Bakhtiari said Saturday night, “and get the feeling of being out there with Aaron (Rodgers) and obviously kind of working with (right guard) T.J. (Lang) and building some cohesiveness, just the beginning of it.”
Coach Mike McCarthy had scheduled a practice for Monday afternoon but canceled it for a team-building exercise instead. A source said he took the players skeet shooting. So the Packers will line up with Bulaga’s replacement at left tackle for the first time at practice Tuesday morning.
Bulaga’s injury will require reconstruction surgery. The general recovery time is nine to 12 months, so if he doesn’t have any other damage in his knee, he’ll have a good chance at being ready for the start of training camp next year.
The severity of Bulaga’s injury caught the team by surprise Sunday, because he took all the snaps with the No. 1 offensive line Saturday night and was walking around after the scrimmage.
The injury costs the Packers their best tackle and is a major blow to their depth on the offensive line. They have 12 healthy linemen and probably will have to look hard to sign another lineman this week or later in camp.
The offensive line’s depth took its first hit in offseason practices, when another fourth-round pick, tackle-guard J.C. Tretter, sustained a broken ankle that will sideline him indefinitely and probably for the season.
Also, tackle Derek Sherrod is on the physically unable to perform list while recovering from a severe injury – two broken bones in his lower leg – sustained 20 months ago. The Packers still appear hopeful he’ll have an NFL career, but there are no signs he’ll be ready to practice before the end of training camp.
So the starting line at practice Tuesday likely will consist of Bakhtiari at left tackle, Josh Sitton at left guard, Evan Dietrich-Smith at center, Lang at right guard and Newhouse at right tackle.
The top backup is second-year pro Don Barclay, who can play right tackle and guard, and possibly center. Greg Van Roten, who can play both guards and center, is next.
Behind them are guard Lane Taylor, who received the biggest bonus ($7,000) of the Packers’ undrafted rookies this year; guard-tackle Andrew Datko, a seventh-round pick in 2012 who spent last season on the Packers’ practice squad; tackle Kevin Hughes, who finished last season on San Diego’s practice squad; center Garth Gerhart, who finished last season on the Packers’ practice squad; and center Patrick Lewis, an undrafted rookie out of Texas A&M.