Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari ruled out for Ravens game; defensive tackle Kenny Clark unlikely to play
GREEN BAY - Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur said left tackle David Bakhtiari will not play and nose tackle Kenny Clark is unlikely to play Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.
Bakhtiari returned to practice Wednesday after missing three weeks following a second surgery to his left knee and took part in all three days of work, including a padded practice Thursday.
But LaFleur said he would not play against the Ravens, which means the Packers will have their All-Pro tackle for no more than three regular-season games this season.
LaFleur said he was anticipating Clark would miss the game after his defensive star was added to the reserve/COVID-19 list Thursday. Clark’s chances of returning were improved when the league said asymptomatic vaccinated players can return if they register a negative test at least 24 hours after their positive test.
Clark is vaccinated, but it’s not known if he has COVID-19 symptoms or cleared protocols, which the league says includes going without a fever for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication. If Clark does have symptoms, LaFleur would know about it and be able to plan accordingly.
The news about Bakhtiari doesn’t come as a complete surprise. The Packers have been very conservative in bringing him back from a torn ACL he suffered on New Year’s Eve of last year, and one week of practice following a recent second surgery probably isn’t enough time for him to be game ready.
Bakhtiari spent the first nine weeks of this season on the physically unable to perform list before being activated Nov. 10. He was able to practice for three weeks while on PUP but needed a second procedure after incurring problems with the knee.
The good news, LaFleur said, is that no other players were added to the COVID list Friday and running back Aaron Jones, who missed the Thursday practice due to illness, appeared ready to go after practicing Friday.
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The players will take COVID-19 tests again Saturday before flying to Baltimore and LaFleur will hold his breath that the Packers don’t suffer any more losses. The rules for travel have gone back to the pre-vaccination standards under which players can’t leave their hotel or have visitors.
"Obviously, as we've seen, things can change in a hurry," LaFleur said. "So we'll never take that for granted and continue to stress the importance to our guys of trying to be as responsible as you can and try not to put yourself in harm's way."
LaFleur said quarterback Aaron Rodgers (toe) only took part in the walk-through prior to practice Friday, but said he would start against the Ravens.
"As far as him playing in the game, we don't have any concerns," LaFleur said. "Certainly, you'd love to have him get those live reps, just for the timing purposes. But, again, it is what it is. We'll make the best of it. There's no doubt in my mind, he'll be ready to go."
As for the official injury report, tight end Dominque Dafney (ankle) and receiver Equanimeous St. Brown (concussion) did not practice for a third straight day. Dafney was declared out and St. Brown doubtful.
In addition, wide receivers Marquez Valdes-Scantling (back) and Malik Taylor (abdomen), were limited and listed as questionable.
T.J. Slaton ready for 'big role' vs. Ravens
In Week 9 of this season, as the Packers found themselves in a dogfight with the Kansas City Chiefs, they also suddenly found themselves without Clark. The Pro Bowl nose tackle exited the game with an injury and in his place, the Packers turned to rookie T.J. Slaton. He finished that game playing 45 snaps, the most of any game in his first year so far.
Walking off the field, Slaton realized he’d just proven to his coaches – but more importantly, himself – that he was capable of holding up in the NFL.
“I felt like I really showed myself that I can actually play a lot in this league, and really showed that I'm capable of actually going out there and … playing all those snaps,” Slaton said Friday.
And on Sunday, the Packers will ask him to step up once again after placing Clark on the reserve/COVID-19 list. LaFleur said Slaton and the entire line will have to be focused against one of the league’s top three rushing offenses (144.8 rushing yards per game).
“He’s gonna play a pivotal role. T.J. has done a really good job with the reps he's gotten, and he's gonna play a bigger role this weekend with Kenny out,” LaFleur said.
“And it's not just him. It's all the guys up front … it’s gonna be a great challenge for our defense. This is one of the premier rushing attacks in the National Football League.”
Slaton in particular is taking the message to heart. As a rookie, he’s had the advantage of sitting and learning behind guys like Clark. The Kansas City game and now the upcoming Ravens game are reminders that he can be thrust into a role at any time.
“I think my biggest challenge is basically just staying ready,” Slaton said. “Being ready to go at any time, any moment of the game, any period; first quarter, second quarter, last quarter. It doesn't matter, just always be ready to go and know what you're doing.”
His teammate Dean Lowry is confident Slaton is ready and his message to Slaton as he prepares for his biggest role yet is simple.
“Just trust your instincts,” Lowry said. “(Slaton’s) got a lot of talent, and each week he's gotten better. So we're excited to see what he can do in a big role this week.”