- Covered Packers for Green Bay Press-Gazette from 1997-2013
- Two-time Wisconsin Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association
GREEN BAY, Wis. — All Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers could do was hope for good news after All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari suffered a knee injury in practice on Thursday.
One phone call dashed that.
“I got a call from him yesterday, late in the afternoon,” Rodgers said Friday. “I was hoping for some good news. Didn’t get it. You gotta move on, but right now it’s still a little raw. We’re still sad and hurting for Dave, just because it’s our brother and it’s our left tackle, our teammate. It’s been a tough time for us and times that by infinity is probably where he’s at right now.”
Rodgers said he was still “in the grieving process.”
Packers coach Matt LaFleur confirmed that Bakhtiari will miss the rest of the season. A source told ESPN on Thursday that the belief is the injury is a torn ACL, although more tests will be needed to determine the extent of the damage.
LaFleur called it “a freaky deal” in a noncontact practice.
The Packers not only have to come up with a plan to replace perhaps the best left tackle in the NFL, but LaFleur must also make sure it doesn’t cast a pall over the team heading into Sunday’s regular-season finale at the Chicago Bears. A win would give the Packers the No. 1 seed (and a first-round bye) in the NFC playoffs. The Bears also have a playoff berth at stake.
“I think everybody kind of handles the grieving process a little bit differently,” LaFleur said. “I think my job is just to stress to our guys the importance of what we have in front of us and to attack each moment of every day trying to figure out ways and prepare to the best of our ability to go play a really good football team. And so I was really proud of our guys in terms of how we responded today. I thought the practice was really clean today.”
LaFleur did not commit to a replacement for Bakthiari but when Bakhtiari missed three games earlier this season to broken ribs, the Packers moved Billy Turner to left tackle and inserted Rick Wagner into the lineup at right tackle. Wagner’s health will determine whether that’s feasible; he’s dealing with a knee injury but practiced Thursday and Friday, prompting LaFleur to say he thinks Wagner should be available.
“I think Billy’s done a tremendous job all season long no matter where he’s played — right tackle, right guard, left tackle,” LaFleur said. “He’s got the right mindset, the right attitude. He comes to work every day ready to go He’s a true pro. That’s all those guys in that room. Again, I’ve said it a few times [offensive line coaches] Adam Stenavich [and] Luke Butkus do a great job with that room, but also those guy take it upon themselves to prepare the right way, and so we’re lucky to have just a group. This is the best offensive line group I’ve been around, and I’m not even talking about the players. I’m talking about in terms of just the mindset in that room, how the guys prepare and then I would say it’s the best o-line I’ve ever been around as well.”
Another option would be to move Pro Bowl left guard Elgton Jenkins to left tackle. Jenkins has played everywhere but right guard this season.
Bakhtiari, a fourth-round pick in 2013 who last month signed the richest contract in NFL history for an offensive lineman ($23 million average per year), became a starter as a rookie after Bryan Bulaga tore his ACL in training camp. The Packers had planned to move Bulaga to left tackle but Bakhtiari played so well in his place that when Bulaga came back the next season, he remained at right tackle.
“I hated to see that this morning when I was told of that,” said Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy, who was the Packers coach when they drafted Bakhtiari. “I mean David is not only a great, great player, great teammate but he’s just a class act. I mean just from the day he arrived there. And I go back to his first start against Aldon Smith against San Francisco. Yeah, I hated to see him go through that and no one will handle it better than he does, but, yeah, he’s one of a kind. Good man.”
ESPN’s Todd Archer contributed to this report.
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