Packers coach Matt LaFleur downplays David Bakhtiari missing third straight practice: 'It's part of the process'
GREEN BAY - The return of Green Bay Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari remains on hold after he missed a third straight day of practice.
Bakhtiari, who is 10½ months past surgery to repair a torn ACL, was activated off the physically unable to perform list last Wednesday, but that was more a formality because if the Packers hadn't done it, he would not have been able to return this year.
Now on the 53-man roster, Bakhtiari had taken part in 11 practices – two of which were walk-throughs – since his PUP practice window opened Oct. 20. He missed his first practice Friday before the Seattle game and then missed Wednesday and Thursday.
Coach Matt LaFleur would not say whether Bakhtiari had a setback in his recovery, but he said that he and the medical staff are trying to make sure he’s physically able to handle the pounding of playing in a game.
“It’s day-to-day,” LaFleur said. “It's part of the process. He's coming off a major injury. And like I’ve said, we're trying to put him in the best possible position for when he does retur,n that he's good to go.”
Asked if there was any chance Bakhtiari wouldn’t be able to return this year, LaFleur said it’s too early to say.
"Shoot, that’s a long time from now,” LaFleur said of the end of the season. “Sure, the hope is he’s able to go at some point. And like I said, he’s day-to-day.”
It’s not uncommon for players coming back from major knee surgery to have swelling or soreness when they return to practice, but there are also players who need a full year off to recovery. The Packers have taken their time with bringing him back and offensive line coach Adam Stenavich even said this week that when Bakhtiari does return, they may limit him to a few series.
Last week, Bakhtiari was not completely ruled out of the Seattle game, even after not practicing Friday. He was listed as doubtful, which gave him a 25% chance of playing. The Packers will have to provide his status for the game Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings on Friday.
Also on Thursday, quarterback Aaron Rodgers sat out a second day of practice this week.
He is listed as having a toe injury, but it’s also possible the Packers are giving him extra time to recover from playing against Seattle. He was coming off a 10-day quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19 and the only practice time he got was a walk-through Saturday.
Rodgers has only practiced once since playing in the Arizona game on Oct. 28. The following Monday, Nov. 1, he took part in an abbreviated practice LaFleur held after the team had the weekend off. Rodgers, who said Wednesday that he was definitely playing against the Vikings, has one more opportunity to practice with the team Friday.
The Packers might receive a boost this weekend from outside linebacker Rashan Gary, who appeared to suffer a serious elbow injury against Seattle. However, it was deemed a hyperextension and after taking part in a limited portion of practice Wednesday, Gary was in full pads Thursday practicing with a brace on his right elbow.
LaFleur said he hoped to get a better idea of whether Gary can play Sunday after watching him practice Thursday and Friday.
Others who did not practice were receiver Allen Lazard (shoulder), running back Aaron Jones (knee), receiver Malik Taylor (abdomen) and tight end Marcedes Lewis (veteran rest).
Aaron Rodgers missing practice ‘not super significant’
Back in 2014, when Rodgers tore his calf muscle during a late-December game at Tampa Bay, the quarterback’s practice for the season essentially halted.
The Packers, then under coach Mike McCarthy, prioritized Rodgers’ availability on game days over practice reps. He went out and posted a 139.6 rating one week later against the Detroit Lions in a game that clinched the NFC North, then a 125.4 rating against the Dallas Cowboys in an NFC divisional playoff win.
So quarterbacks coach Luke Getsy does not subscribe to the theory Rodgers needs much practice for the Packers' offense to operate at a high level.
“I can remember in ’14 when he hurt his calf,” Getsy said, “I mean, I don’t think he practiced like ever, and he still was able to go out and play really well each week.”
Rodgers again is not practicing this week as he gives his injured toe a rest. But unlike last week, when Rodgers was not allowed in the building as he quarantined as an unvaccinated player who tested positive for COVID-19, he was able to attend practice.
Getsy said Rodgers’ presence on the practice field makes a difference. He believes the quarterback, as well as the offense around him, should play well Sunday at Minnesota even without the reps.
“It’s not super significant,” Getsy said, “because of all the reps that we’ve already had in, and the training that we all have in, and the communication that we have. He’s out there, so as soon as plays are over, he’s having the same communication he would as if he was throwing that ball, or the reaction of a receiver making a decision based upon the look that’s presented. They’re having those same conversations, which ultimately is the most important thing for us to be effective.
“Those conversations are happening, we’re all on the same page.”
Amari Rodgers running wide
In college, Amari Rodgers’ 4.44-second 40 time was fast enough to outrun most of the special teamers sprinting downfield to tackle him on punt returns.
Rodgers averaged almost 8 yards on 68 returns over his four seasons at Clemson, taking one all the way for a touchdown as a sophomore. When the Packers drafted him the third round, they immediately slotted him into the same role on their roster.
In 16 returns as a rookie, Rodgers is averaging only 6.6 yards per return. That ranks 21st in the NFL.
It’s the yardage Rodgers is leaving on the field that the Packers are focused on improving. In the NFL, Rodgers’ 4.44-second 40 is ordinary. Everybody runs fast in this league.
“The natural tendency for a rookie returner a lot of times,” special teams coordinator Maurice Drayton said, “is to catch a corner, or catch an edge. Because in college, quite frankly, you’re so much faster than a lot of your opponents. Same thing, you go all the way back to little league, what do they do? Toss sweep, get to the corner and take off.”
Drayton said each punt return has a specific return track, where the returner is expected to run. The Packers are coaching Rodgers on how to follow his return track.
“It’s that process of understanding we’re in the National Football League,” Drayton said, “and everybody is pretty fast. So you want to stay on that return track, hit the return where it’s supposed to be, and maximize your yardage.”