David Bakhtiari's uncertain status creates air of mystery on Packers' offensive line

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GREEN BAY - If the Green Bay Packers have to go without left tackle David Bakhtiari, who missed practice Thursday with a back injury, they will have someone ready to replace him Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.

But a week ago, when they were facing the Chicago Bears, no one seemingly knew for sure who would be backing up Bakhtiari after No. 2 left tackle Alex Light was left on the game-day inactive list. Light was a healthy scratch, leaving guards Lucas Patrick and rookie Elgton Jenkins as the only backup offensive linemen.

“I didn’t really think about it until we were on the sideline and I saw Al not dressed out,” right tackle Bryan Bulaga said. “I didn’t really think about it, then I kind of wondered, 'Man, I wonder who is backup left tackle?’

“It’s bad (karma) to think about that type of stuff.”

Bulaga came out of college as a left tackle, but he has been a right tackle since Week 5 of the 2010 season. He said he would probably need a week of practice to be effective there.

Other linemen said the subject crossed their minds for a second.

“That was a good question, because we were kind of like, ‘If Dave loses his shoelace, who’s going to go out there?’” guard Lane Taylor said. “We were kind of thinking about that, too.

“We don’t want it to happen, so you don’t think about it much. But it is a good question.”

Green Bay Packers offensive tackle David Bakhtiari is shown before their pre-season game against the Houston Texans Thursday, August 8, 2019 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.

Right guard Billy Turner probably would have moved over to left tackle and either Patrick or Jenkins would have moved in at right guard. The only problem was that Turner did not take any snaps at left tackle during training camp.

He has played the position in the NFL, however.

“Three years ago,” he said. “I played it before, so I probably would have went out there, yeah. I mean, shoot, it’s happened before. I’m used to it.”

Turner said he didn’t waste any time wondering what they would do if Bakhtiari had to miss any amount of time.

“It wasn’t really talked about,” Turner said. “Obviously, you don’t like to talk about situations like that, but sometimes you never really know who’s going to be up for the game, who the other linemen are, until the day of the game when you get to the locker room.

“That’s why it’s never really discussed or not until right before the game.”

Turner is apparently considered the swing tackle ahead of Light, so if Bakhtiari can’t play, Turner would probably be the starter. It’s more likely that Light will be active Sunday given Bakhtiari’s situation, however, so the team could go either direction.

Bakhtiari was listed on the injury report as a limited participant Wednesday. Thursday is when the team practices in pads, and it’s possible the training staff just thought it was a good idea to have him skip the contact.

Coach Matt LaFleur was tight-lipped about Bakhtiari’s status.

“Well, I’m not going to get into the injuries anymore,” LaFleur said at his news conference Thursday. “So, you guys see the report.”

Reporters saw at practice that Bakhtiari wasn’t in pads, so they knew he wasn’t practicing. Asked if he thought Bakhtiari would practice Friday, LaFleur said, “We will see tomorrow.”

Early-down efficiency emphasized

After his team ran nine plays for minus-12 yards of total offense in his first quarter as head coach and play-caller of the Green Bay Packers last Thursday in Chicago, Matt LaFleur admitted the day after he felt the weight of that as the Packers took the field in the second quarter.

LaFleur acknowledged he got away from the run game quicker than he would have liked against Chicago because of the rough start.

“I think there’s a sense of that, so to speak,” LaFleur said. “You go through that first quarter and shoot, I think we had negative yardage after one quarter, which nobody wants. And so maybe you press a little bit as a play-caller and are trying to create an explosive play. But we really need to (commit to the run). Because like y’all saw, that defense, not only the front but the entire defense on all three levels is a strong unit. Maybe they might be the best or one of the top defenses in the National Football League. So I think just to take pressure off the pass game and try to protect those pass rushers, we definitely need that run game to get going.”

LaFleur acknowledged he dove into his “get back on track” plays too often in the season-opening victory against the Bears, and a big part of that were these third-down plays in the first quarter:

Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers (12) is sacked by Chicago Bears defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris (95) quarter of their game Thursday, September 5, 2019 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Ill.


Third-and-10: Sack, loss of 10 yards.

Third-and-10: Sack, loss of seven yards.

Third-and-5: Incompletion.

So after a weekend of self-scouting and the transition into game-planning this week for the home opener against another stout defense in Minnesota, LaFleur said a higher efficiency on the early downs can help alleviate some of that pressure on not only himself, but his team. 

“Just staying in manageable situations, staying ahead of the sticks,” LaFleur said. “Not having negative yardage plays. If you look at the third downs, the bulk of them were third-and-10 plus last week and that’s tough living, especially when you're going against a quality defense. I think if you look at (Minnesota head coach) Mike Zimmer and his past with that defense there, they’ve always been one of the tops in the league in overall defense, but also in third downs because they present so many problems. So we know that’s going to be a huge key to this game is staying out of those third-and-long-yardage situations.”

Meanwhile on the health front, cornerback Jaire Alexander (knee) was added to the injury report as a limited participant.  Alexander had not previously been listed, so it’s unclear if he got hurt in practice or was nursing an injury that got worse. The Packers will have to list Alexander’s status for the game Friday.

Inside linebacker Oren Burks (pec) and receiver Darrius Shepherd (hamstring) did not practice. Cornerback Ka’dar Hollman (stinger) continues to wear a red jersey signifying no contact.

Packers call for a home-field advantage

Making Lambeau Field a real home-field advantage has been an emphasis for LaFleur since he took the head-coaching job, and the team experimented with a foghorn and flashing stadium lights during the two preseason games. On Monday, the club formally introduced “new fan engagement features this season to help take Lambeau Field’s competitive environment to the next level.”

There will be new videos, including action-oriented messaging to inspire fans to stand up on third down when the Packers are on defense or to quiet down on offense. 

"I just think the more you can get the fans involved, it definitely (helps),” LaFleur said. “Anybody that was there last week in Chicago could feel that. You could feel that from the opening, from pregame. It felt like it had a playoff-type feel to it. The fans were into it. They sang the national anthem. They were screaming their heads off the whole time, for 2 minutes or whatever it was. We knew that that type of environment is challenging on offenses. That's what we want to get here. We want our fans to stand up and get loud and really support our players."

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was asked about the initiatives and said, “It’s great. My only ask is that we don’t do the wave when we’re on offense. Other than that, man, be as loud as you want from the start. Hopefully nobody says ‘sit down’ to anybody. I’ve heard that from time to time, somebody’s standing up and somebody else tells them to sit down, but we’d love for everybody to get up and be as loud as possible from the start. We need it.”

Over the last few seasons the Packers have seen opposing teams come to Lambeau Field and win games. Since going 8-0 at home in 2014, the Packers have gone 5-3 (2015), 6-2 (2016), 4-4 (2017) and 5-2-1 last season.

But perhaps the real issue for the team is that over the last four years division opponents are a combined 6-5-1 in Green Bay. Detroit didn’t win in Wisconsin from 1992-2014, a streak of 24 games. But since 2015, the Lions are 3-1 at Lambeau Field. The Vikings are 2-1-1 while the Bears are 1-3.

“We’ve been rolling here over the years in stretches and it’s a tough place to play, especially late in the season and in the playoffs when we’ve got the temperature and the crowd going,” Rodgers said. “Twelve o’clock games are always a little different because everybody’s kind of waking up and getting going. It’s an earlier start. I love the lights dimmed for night games, hopefully we can get that in Week 4 (a Thursday night game vs. Philadelphia), but yeah, we’ve got a great home-field advantage, a great fan base. The louder the better.”

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