Packers have multiple options for reshuffling offensive line if David Bakhtiari can't go
GREEN BAY - A second straight day with left tackle David Bakhtiari on the sideline nursing a chest injury means the Green Bay Packers have had to get serious about shuffling their offensive line to account for his possible absence Sunday in Houston.
Bakhtiari, the team’s best offensive lineman, has fought through some tough injuries before and made it back without missing a game.
He comes into this weekend’s game against the Texans with a 50-game starting streak, including postseason. He last sat out in 2017 when he missed four games due to a hamstring injury. Overall, he has missed just six games in eight seasons, starting all 120 games in which he has appeared.
But with Bakhtiari watching practice from the sideline Thursday, coach Matt LaFleur isn’t going to wait around to see if he can play. He has gone through this before with his offensive line and has a contingency plan.
"I think we're going to evaluate every avenue,” he said. “Certainly, we hope David can make it back. I know he's doing everything in his power, but if he can't, he can't. And we'll have a plan for that.”
LaFleur has some options, such as moving Billy Turner from right tackle to left tackle and inserting veteran Rick Wagner at right tackle. Or he could move left guard Elgton Jenkins to left tackle and shuffle the rest of the line to account for the open left guard spot.
Repeatedly, LaFleur has said he’ll start his five best linemen, which in this case would be Turner, Jenkins, Wagner, center Corey Linsley and guard Lucas Patrick.
Wagner filled in for Bakhtiari on Sunday in Tampa but was overmatched and with Texans defensive star J.J. Watt on deck, it seems unlikely he would fill that spot again. Wagner has been a right tackle since he came into the league out of Wisconsin in 2013 and his play there while Turner was sidelined was very good.
Turner doesn’t have much experience at left tackle. He started one game there when he was with Miami in 2016. However, he’s just behind Jenkins and Bakhtiari when it comes to athletic ability and has spent his entire career bouncing around to different spots on the offensive line.
Bakhtiari wasn’t the only starter or key backup to miss practice.
Safety Darnell Savage (thigh), tight end Robert Tonyan (ankle), nose tackle Tyler Lancaster (shoulder), receiver Tyler Ervin (wrist) and tight end Marcedes Lewis (knee) all sat out practice.
Tonyan worked on the field running short routes and testing his cutting ability with a trainer and appeared to be moving well. The rest of the group worked on the side during the period in which the media can watch practice.
Rodgers piles praise on Cobb
For Aaron Rodgers, former teammate and Packers receiver Randall Cobb offers a cautionary example, albeit on a much milder scale.
There was a time Cobb was one of the Packers’ core players. He made the Pro Bowl in 2014 with 91 catches, 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns. The Packers extended Cobb a big, second contract after that season (four years, $40 million), but when that deal expired after the 2018 season, they let him depart in free agency.
The Packers will see their former receiver Sunday for the second time since he left the team. He had three catches for 53 yards against the Packers while playing with the Dallas Cowboys early last season. Now with the Texans, Cobb finds himself in a position familiar with several Packers players over the past decade.
“There's been a few guys through the years who I felt really typifies what it means to be a Green Bay Packer,” Rodgers said. “Unfortunately the majority of those guys haven't been able to finish their career in Green Bay, guys like John Kuhn and Jordy Nelson, Charles Woodson, Randall Cobb, A.J. Hawk, Clay Matthews. Just staples in the community, longtime Packers, great teammates, great locker-room guys, leaders.
“There's no replacing the character of those guys that I mentioned. All very high-character guys. And you miss those types of presences in the locker room.”
Rodgers very well could become next, of course. When the Packers traded up in the first round to draft Utah State quarterback Jordan Love, Rodgers indicated it set the eventual expiration clock on his tenure with the team. Rodgers’ potential departure would be felt deeper than any since Brett Favre.
Still, for Packers players who shared a locker room with Cobb, Sunday will be a wistful reunion. Cobb has 22 catches for 277 yards and two touchdowns through six games with the Texans this season. He had 55 catches for 828 yards and three touchdowns with the Cowboys in 2019.
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"I remember the first game we played together. He obviously ran back a kick, ran the wrong route and got a touchdown. You knew he was going to be special from that point forward. One of the toughest guys I've ever played with, a great sense for the game, a fantastic athlete, can do so many things on the field. Just an incredible understanding of route running. The kind of player you love because if he made a mistake, he never made it twice.
"When he learned something about a route, he'd lock it away in his brain and could remember things from years prior, games prior, release patterns, certain guys he was going against, uncanny ability to set up routes. And he's a security-blanket-type receiver. When you have a slot guy like that who can get open, that's always a good matchup for you.”
Kamal Martin close to return
The Packers brought rookie linebacker Kamal Martin back to practice Oct. 12, starting his 21-day clock to return off injured reserve. Unlike wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown, who was activated off IR and played in Tampa Bay after spending three weeks, the team elected to give Martin more time to continue to work back into form.
“Kamal is a smart guy, and although he hasn't been getting the reps, he's been fully engaged in all our meetings and has done a nice job,” LaFleur said Thursday. “We feel like he's got a really good grasp of the defense and what we're asking him to do. He's just a guy that we're going to wait and see, and see how he progresses throughout this week, to see if he can go or not. But, certainly, we'd like to have him back in the lineup.
The fifth-round pick out of Minnesota was on track to start at inside linebacker alongside Christian Kirksey before a knee injury near the end of training camp required surgery. The team has until the end of the month to activate him to the 53-person roster.
If he were to be activated, the thought is he could help out right away, although how much depends on how he performs this week.
“He’s getting his legs underneath him and running around,” inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti said. “He did a really, really good job of staying involved while he was not being able to practice and doing those things, so that was nice to see.
“It’s one thing to say that you did that. It’s another thing, once you get back out there, to not be so far behind, even the technique things that he needed to work on. He kind of knows what he needed to do and he’s efforting in that way.”