Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari surprises coach Matt LaFleur with return to practice
GREEN BAY - It was a muggy, foggy day as the Green Bay Packers began preparations Wednesday for the Baltimore Ravens. As players jogged onto the practice field, a round of applause arose, originating from the offensive line unit.
Left tackle David Bakhtiari, who has been steadily recovering from an ACL tear but has yet to appear in a game this season, was taking part in reps for the first time in more than a month.
Packers coach Matt LaFleur wasn’t entirely confident Bakhtiari would be present for practice Wednesday. During his news conference shortly before practice, LaFleur said this about the three injured players (cornerback Jaire Alexander, edge rusher Za’Darius Smith and Bakhtiari): “Just taking it a day at a time and when they're ready to go, they’ll be out there. So you know, hopefully, I think Jaire will be out there for some (individual) but those other guys will not.”
When practice kicked off later that afternoon however, Bakhtiari was running on the field with his teammates. He was officially listed on the practice report as a limited participant. Wednesday’s practice was technically a walk-through, so there weren’t many opportunities for strenuous activity.
Bakhtiari’s status for Sunday’s game against Baltimore is still unknown, but quarterback Aaron Rodgers is excited about the possibility of the Pro Bowler’s return.
“That’d be nice to get the big giraffe back out there,” Rodgers said. “He’s obviously gone through a lot in his rehab and there’s been definitely some low days for him; and some contrasting better days. And I think he’s in a lot better place now than when he was trying to come back the first time.
“So that’s exciting. He seems to be feeling a lot better with his knee and his recovery and that’d be great to have him back.”
Injury updates and roster moves
Rodgers (toe) did not participate Wednesday, nor did receiver Equanimeous St. Brown (concussion), tight end Dominique Dafney (ankle) and offensive lineman Billy Turner (knee).
LaFleur said he does expect Turner back this season.
“This season, yeah I think so,” LaFleur said of Turner’s return. “But we’re still kind of going through everything to see where he’s at.”
With questions still prevalent along the offensive line regarding Bakhtiari and Turner, the Packers signed center Michal Menet to the practice squad. Menet is a rookie out of Penn State who was selected by the Arizona Cardinals in the seventh round (No. 247 overall) of the 2021 NFL draft.
In Baltimore, the embattled Ravens listed 14 players on Wednesday’s injury report, with 10 of those not participating in any capacity. Notably, quarterback Lamar Jackson (ankle), defensive tackle Calais Campbell (thigh) and tackle Alejandro Villanueva (knee) were held out of Wednesday’s practice. The Ravens have maintained Jackson could still play Sunday against the Packers, but for now, quarterback Tyler Huntley shapes up as the primary passer.
Wide receiver Sammy Watkins (knee), tight end Nick Boyle (knee) and offensive lineman Patrick Mekari (hand) were all limited participants in Baltimore.
Rodgers toe update
The updates on Rodgers fractured pinky toe have slowed since he made it through the bye week without the need for surgery. The reigning MVP was unable to practice on Wednesday as the toe recovers from a setback Rodgers said he suffered during Sunday’s 45-30 win over the Chicago Bears.
Rodgers was able to practice last Friday, ahead of the Bears game, but isn’t sure when he’ll do so again. Full healing will require a game day with no setbacks, Rodgers told reporters Wednesday; and as such, while surgery is not near as prevalent an idea any longer, it’s not completely off the table.
“It’s not desired, for sure," Rodgers said. "It's more the fact that it really keeps that toe in place; you know the type of surgery, it would be to avoid any further displacement of the fracture but it really would lock that into just a straight out situation.
“So it'd be nice to really have some final healing, but there's always going to be potential setbacks when I'm playing on it. And if we can have a week where we avoid any major ones, I think we can kind of get past this. But if there's some major setbacks then you know, surgeries always kind of lurking there. It's just not desirable for myself or any of the people that have consulted with.”
Packers skirting COVID-19 surge
As the holiday season kicks into full gear and the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus spreads, the NFL is experiencing a surge of positive COVID cases. At last count, the league had more tha 75 players and counting test positive over the last three days, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
On Wednesday, LaFleur said his team has been relatively unscathed.
“We’ve fortunately been OK" he said. No coaches or players; but again, you've got to take it day by day, because it's obvious it's very problematic for a lot of teams out there.”
The Packers have seen all three of their quarterbacks (Aaron Rodgers, Jordan Love and Kurt Benkert) and two of their top three wide receivers (Davante Adams and Allen Lazard) all enter COVID-19 protocols at some point this season. As well as being one of the more injured teams in the league currently, LaFleur feels there are similar lessons learned from both challenges.
“You can only control what you can control and I don't think anybody's controlling this (virus) obviously," he said. "I would say it's similar to how you have to deal with injuries. You just got to play the hand that you're dealt, and you just got to learn to adjust and make the necessary changes.”