Packers may revisit whether David Bakhtiari can practice every day after sitting out Sunday

Ryan Wood
Green Bay Press-Gazette
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GREEN BAY – David Bakhtiari wanted to practice. He’s an offensive lineman, and offensive linemen stay on the field. That means every snap. Every practice rep, if possible.

The two-time All-Pro left tackle bristled when he was forced into a rotation with Yosh Nijman upon returning early this season from his 20-month recovery from a torn ACL. That’s not what any offensive lineman wants, he said. Bakhtiari’s insistence to play as much as possible wasn’t limited to game days.

He didn’t want to miss a practice either.

The Green Bay Packers eventually submitted to Bakhtiari’s desire to stay on the field always, diverting from a carefully crafted plan for his return. Early this season, coach Matt LaFleur said Bakhtiari would not practice three days in a row at any point this season, even when he was capable of playing every snap in a game. But Bakhtiari wanted to practice. So the Packers relented, allowing him to practice three straight days the past two weeks.

“I think it’s more about balancing the workload,” LaFleur said. “It’s the total, overall workload. He’s been limited every day. It just kind of got to that situation where he wanted to practice.”

Whether correlated or not, Bakhtiari’s increased number of practices led to an unexpected absence Sunday in the Packers’ 23-21 loss at the Washington Commanders. After a second straight week practicing three straight days, Bakhtiari entered the training room Saturday morning before the Packers’ flight to the nation’s capital with a left knee that “wasn’t feeling right.” That’s concerning for the Packers to hear anytime – “we’re a better offense with him, no doubt about it,” LaFleur said – but especially troubling this week.

The Packers had spent the previous five days plotting major changes to their offensive line. Other than Bakhtiari and center Josh Myers, the three other positions would be filled with a lineman filling that spot for the first time this season. A Bakhtiari absence meant four of the five positions would be filled with somebody new.

LaFleur said the Packers held out hope as long as possible. Bakhtiari flew east with the team and had a workout Sunday morning at FedEx Field, but his knee still wasn’t ready to play. LaFleur smiled and rubbed the back of his neck while recalling the hectic moment Sunday morning he decided to keep Bakhtiari inactive, replacing him with rookie Zach Tom.

Green Bay Packers tackle David Bakhtiari  was inactive Sunday against the Washington Commanders.

“Let’s just say I was a little bit later getting out to the pregame warmup than typical,” he said, “shuffling some things around. But, you know, it is what it is. That happens. In a game, that may happen. And that’s even more chaotic. But at least you had some time to reorganize some things."

LaFleur chose to insert Tom at left tackle because he has taken first-team reps on the blindside each week, a contingency plan to guard against Bakhtiari’s unpredictable situation. By Saturday, with the week’s game plan already installed, it was also too late to move Yosh Nijman to left tackle when he’d worked exclusively on the right side.

Elgton Jenkins returned to left guard for the first time since 2020, when he was a Pro Bowler at that position. That moved Jon Runyan to right guard for only the second time not only in his three-year NFL career, but since his junior season at Michigan. It was a significant challenge for Runyan, who two days before the game said his preference was to remain at left guard.

After practicing at right guard last week, Runyan said the move across the line isn’t just muscle memory with his blocking technique flipping. The mental adjustment is just as pronounced. In an odd-numbered protection call at left guard, Runyan said, he slides his protection to a specific direction. It might be the opposite direction on the right side. Runyan said it takes an extra “half second” to lock in the call.

Even if he’s playing the same numbers of snaps, Runyan made clear he preferred to stay at left guard.

“Yeah, for sure,” Runyan said. “Definitely I’m more comfortable over there. The majority of my football career, I’ve been on the left side. So it definitely feels more natural for me. So left side feels like home.”

LaFleur was pleased with the results this new-look offensive line produced, even if it didn’t come in a win.

The line had a low bar to clear after a performance one week earlier against the New York Jets that LaFleur called the worst in his tenure as head coach. The Packers allowed four sacks and nine quarterback hits against the Jets, the most hits Rodgers has taken in a game in more than two years. Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon combined for just 60 yards on 19 carries, only the second time they’ve been held to that few since they became the one-two punch in the Packers backfield last season.

They were held to just 38 yards on 12 carries combined against the Commanders, though LaFleur said at least two carries and 20 yards for Jones were ruled receptions when instead they should have been recorded as carries. In pass protection, the Packers were much more sound. Rodgers was not sacked against the Commanders, and he was hit only once. It helped more than just a little that the Commanders did not blitz throughout the game, bringing only four defenders with their pass rush.

Regardless, it would not be surprising if the Packers kept the same line this week when they travel to the Buffalo Bills.

“I thought going against a pretty good front,” LaFleur said, “I thought they played pretty well. It wasn’t flawless by any stretch, but for the most part I thought they did pretty good. I know we were kind of getting the ball out really quickly in a lot of instances to not allow that front to kind of wreck the game. There were a couple plays where we had miscommunication where we should’ve gotten more in the run game to set us back, but I thought for the most part it was pretty decent.”

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The question is whether Bakhtiari will rejoin the Packers offensive line in Buffalo. There’s no telling how his knee will respond week to week, an uncertainty that is no surprise to this team. Tom didn’t learn until Sunday morning he would get his first career start, but the rookie said he knew by Saturday there was a good chance he’d play. “You can just see it,” Tom said, “the way he looks in practice sometimes, you’ve just always got to be ready.” That’s unlikely to change anytime soon, if ever.

What might change is the Packers’ practice plan for Bakhtiari. LaFleur indicated the team might revisit whether its left tackle can practice every day, even if he wants to.

“I think that’s definitely a discussion,” LaFleur said, “that’s going to be had with all of us – myself, Dave, our medical staff – in terms of what’s best.”

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