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Source: Bakhtiari Expected to Play vs. Buccaneers

Almost 21 months after suffering a torn ACL at practice, Green Bay Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari is trending toward playing on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – Green Bay Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari is trending toward playing on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a source told Packer Central on Saturday.

Bakhtiari practiced on Thursday and Friday this week and was listed as questionable by coach Matt LaFleur. He will be in the starting lineup, so long as there are no hiccups – the possible adverse effects of a long flight to Tampa, for instance.

As the team boarded the flight to Tampa on Saturday afternoon, some of the linemen wore Bakhtiari T-shirts. There was only one way to read into their choice of wardrobe. The source said they could be “prophetic.”

The Packers will be incredibly cautious and patient with one of the premier offensive linemen in the NFL – and one of the highest paid – just as they have been throughout his long and arduous comeback from a torn ACL sustained at practice on Dec. 31, 2020. That caution will continue into pregame warmups to make sure Bakhtiari is feeling good – and feeling good about it.

And no alarm bells should go off if Bakhtiari plays only a quarter or a half in his first game since Jan. 9, 2022 – a 27-snap cameo at the Detroit Lions that seemed like a springboard into the playoffs but turned into a road to nowhere.

Sunday will mark 633 days since the initial injury and 259 days since the Detroit game.

“It’s a nightmare,” Bakhtiari said at the start of camp. “My nightmare that I have to live and I don’t know how many days it’s been, but I’m just excited to wake up one day.”

That day could be Sunday.

Assuming there are no glitches, Bakhtiari’s return will come at the Buccaneers, who lead the NFL in sacks. His primary matchup would come against Shaquil Barrett, who led the NFL in sacks in 2019. Between the layoff, the talent and the heat, you could hardly imagine a more challenging return for the man quarterback Aaron Rodgers affectionately calls “The Big Giraffe.”

For some symmetry: Without Bakhtiari, the Packers lost the NFC Championship Game at home against Tampa Bay. Barrett had three sacks against Billy Turner, who shifted from right tackle to left tackle for the game.

“I’m not sure where he’s going to be at percentage-wise, not just physically but mentally,” Rodgers said on Wednesday. “When he’s back, he’s a minimum top-three left tackle in the league. Yosh (Nijman) has played really well for us but there’s a reason Dave gets paid what he gets paid and he’s been a first-team All-Pro many times.”

Assuming Bakhtiari is in the lineup, the Packers will play with their preferred starting five against perhaps the best defense in the NFL. That would be Bakhtiari at left tackle, Jon Runyan at left guard, Josh Myers at center, Royce Newman at right guard and Elgton Jenkins at right tackle. Jenkins made his return from his torn ACL vs. Chicago last week.

David Bakhtiari (Photo by Jeff Hanisch/USA Today Sports)

David Bakhtiari (Photo by Jeff Hanisch/USA Today Sports)

Speaking for himself, Jenkins said the last hurdle of playing in a game is mental.

“You just got to go,” he said. “I know it was a bad injury, an ACL. There’s things that people don’t want to do but you just got to go. You just got to say forget it and whatever happens, happens.”

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Following the injury that knocked Bakhtiari out of the 2020 playoffs, his on-again, off-again comeback last year included a second surgery before he finally played at Detroit. He had a third surgery this offseason.

“Everyone loves timelines. When I'm ready, I'll be out there,” he said at the start of training camp. “What I can say is I do feel really good. I really like – I feel normal. My knee feels normal, and that's the biggest plus. Now it's just getting that normal feeling again when I play football. So, that's what it is: the load, stress, strength, but we're not really in an ACL issue. That's actually been a long time ago that we put that chapter to bed. It's just there's other issues.”

Expectations need to be tempered, no matter Bakhtiari’s talent level and past accomplishments as a five-time All-Pro. Jenkins, a superb player in his own right, blamed himself for two sacks vs. Chicago. But this is one of the greatest linemen of the generation. It’s worth noting that Bakhtiari didn’t allow a single pressure during his lone game last season, and that came after a layoff of more than 12 months. He’s been practicing for about a month to get ready for this moment.

“You don’t want to go in there and say, ‘Hey, when you get back out there, you better be back at how you were playing in 2020 before you got hurt,’” offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich said before the opener.

“I want him, when he gets out there, just be a great leader, have great energy and do the little things – the finishing of your blocks, good communication, all that stuff. He’ll get to that level. He’ll get back there, I have no doubt about that. Same with Elgton. It’s just a matter of them getting out there, getting in the groove and, 10 weeks from now, hopefully we see that progress.”

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