Packers' All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari set to practice for first time since ACL injury
GREEN BAY - Amid an ever-mounting pile of injuries, the Green Bay Packers got some positive health news Monday.
Left tackle David Bakhtiari is expected to practice this week for the first time since tearing his ACL on New Year's Eve, three days before the Packers played at Chicago in their 2020 season finale. His return to the field will come more than 10 months after reconstructive knee surgery, a minimum standard the Packers have used in the past.
Bakhtiari started training camp on the physically unable to perform list, where he has stayed through the first six weeks of this season. This week is the earliest he was eligible to start practicing. The Packers will have three weeks to activate Bakhtiari from PUP after he begins practicing.
Coach Matt LaFleur cautioned that Bakhtiari will need time to reacclimate to football before he's activated to play in a game.
"Certainly when you're coming off a pretty significant injury," LaFleur said, "you don't want to just throw somebody out there. We want to make sure that, number one, that physically his knee is in great shape, and he's not at further risk of doing more damage to it. Then also I think there's a confidence factor that you develop by just playing football, whether that's in practice ... So there is a ramp-up period."
The Packers' offensive line has been in flux much of this season. Elgton Jenkins, who replaced the All-Pro Bakhtiari at left tackle, missed three games because of an ankle injury. Jenkins returned to left tackle Sunday against the Chicago Bears, but rookie center Josh Myers dropped out of the game with a knee injury on the opening drive.
LaFleur said Myers will "most likely" miss at least a couple of games, though the knee injury is not expected to end his season. If Bakhtiari returns before Myers, it could give the Packers an interesting choice on where to play Jenkins. He was a Pro Bowl left guard last season, but center might still be his best position.
Jenkins played his final two college seasons at center. LaFleur said he would still need reps at center if he plays there instead of left guard while Myers is out, if Bakhtiari returns by then.
"I think you'd like to get whoever is playing that position the reps," LaFleur said. "Because this is a tough league, and if you're not prepared, it's hard to just, 'Hey, go play center today.' Because all the calls that you have to make, recognition of the fronts, who you're targeting, you're the guy who's kind of setting the table for everybody. We're fortunate that we have a quarterback that, if the center doesn't get it right, he can get them right. But yeah, I would say if we wanted Elgton to ever play center, we're going to have to get him those reps."
Alexander shoulder 'progressing nicely'
The Packers can't yet rule out the possibility cornerback Jaire Alexander will need shoulder surgery that would likely end his season.
Alexander missed his second straight game Sunday in Chicago. He has not played since injuring his shoulder while tackling Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris on Oct. 3. He is eligible to be activated from injured reserve after Sunday's game against Washington, though it is uncertain whether he'll be available.
"I can't 100 percent rule (surgery) out," LaFleur said, "but we feel like it's progressing nicely. It's a constant thing that we're always kind of rescanning, if you will, and making sure we get the right opinions from everybody to help Jaire out and put him in the best, possible position."
LaFleur said the Packers will eventually need to determine whether surgery is the best course for Alexander, but that time is not pressing.
Cornerback Kevin King is not expected to need a stint on injured reserve as he recovers from a shoulder injury that kept him inactive against the Bears. King would not only miss at least three games if he went on IR, but he'd be ineligible to practice for three weeks.
"It's something that's getting better every day," LaFleur said. "I know he's working hard at it, and we'll see where he's at. But it's more day to day."
The Packers are also trying to gauge how long Preston Smith might be out. Smith injured an oblique Sunday, a tricky injury that can take time to heal. He has never missed a game in his career, playing all 102 since Washington drafted him in the second round in 2015.
"P has been really consistent," LaFleur said, "does a great job getting prepared each and every week. We'll just see how he's feeling this week. I know he's definitely motivated to want to play, but we want to make sure he's not going to put himself at further risk of injury and be out a longer period of time. So we want to make sure that he's good to go."
Receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling is eligible to return from injured reserve this week. LaFleur said it was too early in the week to know if he will be activated.
Jaylon Smith working into LB rotation
It didn't take new linebacker Jaylon Smith long to find the field in the Packers' defense.
Smith played 17 snaps (28%) against the Bears on Sunday, 12 days after the Dallas Cowboys released him. He was inactive against the Cincinnati Bengals on Oct. 10 as he got a crash course on Packers coordinator Joe Barry's scheme. It was the first game Smith had missed in his career since 2016, when he sat out an entire season as he recovered from surgery to repair a torn ACL and PCL in his left knee.
LaFleur said it's still uncertain how much Smith will play from game to game.
"We'll just take it a week at a time," LaFleur said. "I thought Jaylon did a nice job in his first week out there. You can definitely tell he's played a lot of football. He's very instinctive, and I want to say – what did he play, 16 snaps or right around there? But we also have confidence in the other guys in that room."
Oren Burks played 19 snaps (31%) against the Bears while Krys Barnes played 13 snaps (21%). LaFleur indicated both will continue factoring into the linebacker rotation behind De'Vondre Campbell, who has emerged atop the depth chart and played all 61 snaps Sunday.
"We'll just kind of play it out each and every week in terms of who's out there playing," LaFleur said.
Prodigious punt travels 82 yards
When Corey Bojorquez first connected with what became the longest NFL punt in the past eight seasons, LaFleur winced.
There was no way, LaFleur thought, this line-drive missile in the third quarter Sunday wouldn't outkick the Packers' coverage. It was the type of punt, he thought, that often yields a big return.
Then the football kept sailing, over Bears returner Damiere Byrd's head.
"That was a pretty significant punt," LaFleur said.
Bojorquez was standing at the Packers' 6-yard line when the football rocketed off his left foot. It bounced inside the opposite 20, then bounced two more times into the end zone. The line of scrimmage was the Packers 18-yard line, meaning Bojorquez's punt counted for 82 yards.Bojorquez
It was the NFL's longest punt since the New York Jets' Robert Malone kicked an 84-yard punt in 2013. Only 24 times in NFL history, and only five times since 2000, has a punt traveled at least 82 yards.
"It was a low snap," LaFleur said, "and Bojo just drove the ball. Luckily, it went over the returner's head."
Even with the touchback, the Packers netted 62 yards on Bojorquez's punt.