Packers tight end Josiah Deguara can empathize with ACL rehab partner David Bakhtiari

GREEN BAY – If you’re going to go through ACL rehab, there are worse partners to have beside you than David Bakhtiari. 

That’s the company Green Bay Packers tight end Josiah Deguara kept over the past several months as he rehabbed his ACL with Bakhtiari, the Packers’ All-Pro left tackle, doing the same. Deguara, who tore his ACL in Week 4 against Atlanta, was almost three months ahead of Bakhtiari in his recovery. He was “crushed” when he heard of Bakhtiari’s torn ACL, but didn’t mind spending more time with his veteran teammate. 

“I knew what he was going through,” Deguara said. “So I just told him I was there for him, and throughout the process, it’s been great getting to know him. We’ve obviously spent a little more time together than we normally would have if we were playing and healthy. So it’s been awesome to get to know Dave. 

Packers tight end Josiah Deguara (81) has made much progress since being carted off the field against the Atlanta Falcons on Oct.5, 2020, at Lambeau Field.

“We’ve been pushing each other. He pushes me, makes a lot of jokes in the training room to keep it lighthearted in there.” 

Deguara returned to practice this week, marking a 10-month recovery from his torn ACL. He echoed Bakhtiari’s sentiments on the injury, saying the process is grueling not just physically, but also mentally. Deguara said he was angry about the injury until he got surgery.  

“I think deep down I did know, yeah,” Deguara said. “I think I didn’t want to believe it, for sure. There’s that time where you’re just kind of confused. I never felt what I felt out here, so there was that little bit of confusion of what really happened. but the team does a great job of not telling you on the field and freaking you out, out there. 

“Obviously, I was shocked and didn’t want to believe it. A lot of emotions just rushing through your head. The whole night is just kind of a blur.” 

The injury wiped out Deguara’s rookie season, costing him a potentially significant role in coach Matt LaFleur’s offense. Deguara played 24 snaps (30.8%) in the Packers' opener at Minnesota last season, catching one pass for 12 yards. 

It took a day, Deguara said, for him to adjust to the speed of the game once he returned this week. On Thursday, he caught a 13-yard pass from Aaron Rodgers on fourth-and-4 in a two-minute drill, signaling what has been a smooth transition into the offense. 

“It’s just getting back into the flow of the game,” Deguara said. “Not from a mental state of, like, I’m worrying about my leg, but more just hearing the call, getting to the line, seeing the defense, doing what you have to do to execute the play.

“So I think that’s a little bit the first day, just getting back into that. And then also just being able to get out there, hit somebody. That first hit is always one that feels good to get out of the way. So now that I did that, I’m ready to go.” 

Tight ends an odd assortment

Second-year pro Dominique Dafney said no one would walk by the Packers' tight end room and mistake them for the NFL prototype.

Marcedes Lewis is 6-6, 267 pounds and in his 17th year. Daniel Crawford is 6-1, 245 pounds and a rookie. There are all kinds of body types and NFL experience in between, including the 6-2, 243-pound Dafney, who was signed to the practice squad in October, elevated to the 53 in December and caught a touchdown pass in Week 17.

“J.O. (tight ends coach Justin Outten) jokes and says we’re like the room of the misfits, the people that nobody wants because we’re all just different body types. We play different positions. Like I play fullback and tight end and Rob (Tonyan) plays just tight end and some receiver. We’re just all over the place.

“But I feel like that’s just what’s so special about our room is we just have so many ways that we can attack you. We’re just like that Swiss army knife.”

Final preparations

LaFleur gave the starters some extra snaps Thursday because many of them will be seeing a very limited amount or no playing time Saturday against Houston.

There was little to no preparation for the Texans because LaFleur wants to continue working through the normal steps of getting ready for the regular season and this was a chance for the veterans to stay on course.

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However, LaFleur said he would prep those who are playing Saturday with some basics about the Texans’ schemes. He said he would have the scout team run off of “cards” – diagrams of how the Texans might line up on a given play – so that quarterback Jordan Love would have an idea of what he will be facing.

But none of it will be done in practice.

“We know who the coordinators are down in Houston, Lovie Smith, and then Tim Kelly, who was there last year, so we have an idea of what they may do,” LaFleur said. “So, there is a little bit of “card” work, but the majority of that is done in our walk-through.

“So, this evening, we'll have a walk-through geared toward that first preseason game. And then, as well as one tomorrow.”

Love will start and is expected to play well into the second half. No. 3 quarterback Kurt Benkert is expected to finish up.

Surprise, surprise

Something LaFleur and his coaches know from experience is not to write off players who might not be showing a lot in practice.

Sometimes, a player might not be getting the right opportunities or not getting any opportunities at all and then the games come around and the player excels. There will undoubtedly be someone who comes out of the woodwork and surprises the coaches.

“That happens probably every year when we have preseason,” LaFleur said. “Certainly, there's going to be some unexpected, pleasant surprises. And, you know, that's what we're looking for as a staff.

“Just guys that might not get as many opportunities in practice and then they go out there in the game and they show some great flashes. Then that's going to lead to more opportunity in the coming weeks. So, we're definitely excited about just going on and watching these guys go out there and compete.”