David Bakhtiari's return to practice is 'a shot in the arm' for the Green Bay Packers
GREEN BAY - Mired in an injury spell so severe it has their quarterback reminiscing about 2010, the Green Bay Packers needed a day like Wednesday.
For the first time since tearing his ACL on Dec. 31, All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari practiced. Bakhtiari is more than 10 months removed from reconstructive knee surgery, a key hurdle for a player returning from a torn ACL to clear.
Head coach Matt LaFleur did not undersell the importance of Bakhtiari’s return.
“He prepares the right way each and every day,” LaFleur said. “He has the right message for our guys. I think he leads that room as good as anybody, and he’s a great talent. So I think it definitely gives everybody a shot in the arm.”
The Packers will have 21 days to activate Bakhtiari from the physically unable to perform list onto their 53-man roster. Bakhtiari participated in individual drills during the early practice periods Wednesday. LaFleur said the practice was designed to be more at walkthrough pace, which coincidentally might have allowed Bakhtiari to participate more than he would have.
Bakhtiari’s practice workload moving forward will be day to day, LaFleur said.
There’s no question the return of their franchise left tackle is monumental for the Packers, but Bakhtiari wasn’t the only player to practice for the first time in a while Wednesday. Cornerback Kevin King also returned to the practice field for the first time since injuring his shoulder at Cincinnati on Oct. 10.
King’s return was especially important with safety Darnell Savage still in concussion protocol. Savage was among four Packers who did not practice, joining outside linebacker Preston Smith (oblique), center Josh Myers (knee) and offensive lineman Dennis Kelly (back). Receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling also remained on injured reserve and did not practice despite being eligible to be activated.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers said he enjoyed seeing Bakhtiari, his good friend, back at practice.
“I see Dave every day,” Rodgers said. “It was good to hear him. He couldn’t keep his mouth shut today, which I guess was kind of normal. But it was good to have him out there in a helmet.”
With all the moving parts on their roster because of injury, Rodgers said 2021 has felt awfully familiar.
“This season,” Rodgers said, “is beginning to remind me a little bit of a season over a decade ago, where we had a number of injuries and in the course of the season added certain pieces to the mix that ended up playing a big role down the line. I think you guys can imagine what season I’m talking about. Which is a good thing.”
The 2010 team overcame numerous injuries to win Super Bowl XLV.
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Rodgers shows he can deliver a quarterback sneak
Over his career, the quarterback sneak hasn’t been a regular play for Rodgers.
That changed Sunday when the Packers needed a single foot from their 44-yard line on fourth-and-1 early in the second quarter. Rodgers plowed up the middle and got 2 yards, extending the drive and proving wrong the reputation that he can not handle a quarterback sneak.
“That one hurts my heart for sure,” Rodgers said. “Because I think it’s been propagated and exaggerated by David Bakhtiari. He’s been, I think, my biggest antagonist as far as people not believing in my ability to quarterback sneak.
On the play, LaFleur said Rodgers had an option to go for the sneak depending on the Bears’ defensive look. It’s something the coach and quarterback discuss during the week, and when the situation arose Sunday, the Packers executed it.
“If it was there,” LaFleur said, “he could take it. If not, we could get to something else. But that’s something we’re constantly evaluating. If they go double mug or both ‘backers walk up or they’ve got both their interior linemen in those A gaps, we tend to not want to do those, because it is tough.”
LaFleur said quarterback sneaks are generally “pretty successful” when given the proper defensive setup. He doesn’t believe in forcing the play if the A gaps are stuffed not only because they’re less likely to succeed, but also it exposes the quarterback to unnecessary contact.
Rodgers was pleased he got a chance to showcase a rare part of his game Sunday.
“He’s been the biggest deterrent to us sneaking, because he tells Steno (offensive line/run game coordinator Adam Stenavich) I don’t like doing it, and I’m terrible at it," Rodgers said of Bakhtiari. "I don’t feel like that is necessarily the case. Thankfully, he might not be the only one, because the Bears gave me an opportunity to do that. But with every opportunity I get, I feel like I take back that narrative a little bit that Dave tried to steal from me, and I’m very proud of that.”
Bears fans not alone in their trash talking toward Rodgers
A few days after crushing their collective souls, Rodgers might have been placating Bears fans Wednesday.
Rodgers reminded Bears fans that, yes, he owns them following his game-sealing touchdown Sunday at Soldier Field. After scoring, Rodgers said he looked up and saw a woman showing two middle fingers in the air. Video from the game shows there were many more people flipping off Rodgers than just one woman.
The Packers quarterback said those middle fingers aren’t unique to Chicago.
“It happens a lot of places, I think,” Rodgers said. “Definitely not just Chicago. There’s some other places I’ve been that have had some rowdy fans.”
Rodgers said Philadelphia stands out for its trash talking.
Early in his career, when Rodgers was still backing up Brett Favre, the Packers traveled to play a game against the Eagles. The same fan kept reciting the same piece of trash talk all game, Rodgers said.
“He yelled, ‘Hey Rodgers, get the splinters out of your ass,’” Rodgers said. “All game long. To where, by the time the third quarter happened, I was impressed that he was still at it. So I turned and gave him a little wave. But, yeah, Philly fans are real good trash talkers.”
At that point in his career, Rodgers might not have informed the fan he owned their team. But the moment is still memorable all these years later.