Packers coach Matt LaFleur 'fully expects' David Bakhtiari to play against Vikings

Kassidy Hill
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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GREEN BAY − The Green Bay Packers could have the full strength of their offensive line back on the field Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.

Less than a month after undergoing an appendectomy, left tackle David Bakhtiari is expected to be back on the field against the Vikings. He started practicing again Wednesday and has participated every day this week, albeit in a limited role. But Packers coach Matt LaFleur is confident in his status for Sunday.

"I full expect Dave to play," LaFleur said Friday.

Bakhtiari was not listed with a game status on the Friday injury report, indicating he will be available.

"I couldn't lift anything over 20 pounds for like three weeks. Other than that it was a big question mark," Bakhtiari said Friday of the uncertain timetable to his return. "It was just kind of feel it out. So it was a journey for everyone, including myself.

"Definitely sucked. just was really weird. But I'm very fortunate, really the last 10 days, it kind of just took a huge turn for the better. There's some pain, some things I've got to work through this week. But very fortunate to be where I am where I'm like, 'OK, yeah, I can totally do this.'"

After multiple surgeries to repair an ACL tear that effected his knee, Bakhtiari learned to manage the pain and workload. It's why he's been able to play 100% of the snaps in games this season in which he's appeared. But an appendectomy recovery is a different animal, the All-Pro said Friday.

"They're two completely different things. I'm just assuming that it's good to go and I'll figure it out," Bakhtiari said. "It doesn't feel like it did 10 days ago and it definitely doesn't feel like it did two weeks ago."

In Bakhtiari’s absence, the Packers have turned to rookie Zach Tom. Coaches praised Tom’s ability to step in untested, but the opportunity to have a Pro Bowler back at left tackle in a must-win game could be game changing.

“You're always trying to get your best guys out there,” LaFleur said, ”and not to say Zach’s not one of ... he's done an outstanding job and it makes our job tougher for coaches in terms of who we put out there and what position they get to play. Zach, his ability to play multiple positions is a good problem for us.”

While Bakhtiari may be more certain, there still are questions surrounding two others.

Christian Watson, Keisean Nixon uncertain for Sunday

To paraphrase "Cool Hand Luke," there was a failure with communication Thursday as LaFleur told reporters that receiver Christian Watson (hip) and returner/cornerback Keisean Nixon (groin) would practice ... only to see them not.

Asked Friday what the status for the duo would be for the final practice of the week, LaFleur quipped, "We will see. A little miscommunication yesterday."

During the open portion of Friday's practice, as the Packers (7-8) put the finishing touches on their game plan for Week 17's matchup against the Minnesota Vikings (12-3), both Nixon and Watson participated in stretch with their teammates. As the team then exited to Clark Hinkle Field for the portion of practice closed to the media, Watson put his helmet on and joined his teammates. Nixon stayed inside to work with trainers.

Both Nixon and Watson were listed with a "questionable" game status for Sunday. Nixon was the only Packer who did not practice at all on Friday.

"We're gonna work (Watson) out with medical and, if he can go, then we'll move him into practice," LaFleur said before practice. "And the same goes with Keisean as well."

Neither Watson nor Nixon participated in practice Wednesday or Thursday. Regardless of what Watson, a rookie, is able to do during a week of practice, his impact on the offense in what amounts to a must-win game prevails over any lack of preparation.

"He is very intelligent and has gotten a ton of reps I would say throughout the course of the season," LaFleur said Friday of Watson. "So you know, we're just going to kind of feel it out and if he feels like he can go at game time, and the trainer's clear him, then we'll let him go. But if not, then obviously, we'll have to, other guys are gonna have to pick up the pieces."

Watson told reporters Thursday that the mental reps he gets during the week would be enough to feel comfortable playing. His speed would be in question, although Watson can still outrun most defenders even when hampered.

"I would obviously like to be at 100%," Watson said Thursday. "Obviously, me you know, utilizing my speed is a big part of my game. But you know, I'm sure 80% is still still pretty good."

As for Nixon, who has become a dynamic punt and kickoff returner for the Packers, the groin injury he suffered during Sunday's win over the Miami Dolphins kept him sidelined for much of the second half. Nixon leads the NFL in average yards per return on punt returns (15.3) and leads the NFL in total kickoff return yards (825 yards). He's second in the league in average yards per return on kickoffs (27.5). The decision to sideline him in the Dolphins game after a 93-yard return was not made lightly. The decision to play him Sunday against the Vikings won't be taken lightly either.

"A lot of people are involved in that conversation, but if a player doesn't feel like he can hit his top speed, and certainly you don't want to further aggravate it or make the situation worse, (because) then he's out for a longer period of time," LaFleur said Friday. "We all understand where we're at in the season and what's on the line. So I would say that if he can go then he'll be out there."

After Nixon's exit, the Packers turned to rookie Romeo Doubs. The receiver practiced some at kickoff and punt returns during training camp, but as he became more valuable to the offense, coaches elected not to use him on special teams. He was their emergency option Sunday, though, and returned a kickoff for the first time in five years (since his senior year of high school).

Doubs had two kickoff returns against the Dolphins; one for 21 yards and one for 18 yards. The latter was his first return, and came from 5 yards deep in the end zone and returned to the Packers 13-yard line.

"It was just a terrible mistakes on my end. I took it out when I wasn't supposed to," Doubs said Friday. "Keisean's 4.3 speed. I'm a 4.5 flat guy. Potentially a 4.4. But speed's different."

While at Nevada, Doubs was used only on punt return. As the Packers continue to wait on Nixon's status for Sunday, Doubs has spent the week preparing to be used on both.

"Kickoff return is more of a one band, one sound," Doubs said. "Where it's a spot where you gotta go to. Compared to punt return where if you make one man miss something can possibly happen. It was different. And I told myself that when I got out there, that it's kickoff return, not punt return, where you can't be so slow to go. You got to make sure you hit a specific amount of speed in order to hit a gap within that scheme.

"I feel a lot more comfortable (now) because everything was so unexpected (Sunday). I know if (Keisean) isn't ready to go, I know I'll potentially be back there and I know what to do if I am back there."

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