Packers Have ‘Sweetheart’ of Replacement for Bulaga

That's what David Bakhtiari called potential starting right tackle Rick Wagner.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – David Bakhtiari has a unique description for his new linemate, Rick Wagner.

“Unless Rick’s changed and kind of gotten too caught up in the limelight, he was a sweetheart when I met him back in 2013 and the few encounters that we’ve had together throughout our careers in the NFL,” Bakhtiari, the Green Bay Packers’ All-Pro left tackle, said during a Zoom call with Packers beat reporters on Tuesday.

In free agency, the Packers lost standout right tackle Bryan Bulaga to the Los Angeles Chargers. The Packers filled the void by signing Wagner, who had been the Detroit Lions’ starting right tackle the past three seasons. It’s one of just a few changes among Green Bay’s offensive and defensive starters from last season.

Wagner, a fifth-round pick by Baltimore out of Wisconsin in 2013, allowed 16 sacks and 98 total pressures in 40 starts in those three seasons with the Lions, according to Pro Football Focus. For comparison, Bulaga, the Packers’ first-round pick in 2010, allowed 14 sacks and 94 total pressures in 51 starts the past four seasons.

“He’s always more of the soft-spoken, sweet side. Of course, his game kind of reflects differently,” Bakhtiari said. “I think he lets out most of his aggression and anger in the game. So, in terms of fitting in the room, I don’t think there will be an issue. In terms of what I would expect, at the end of the day, who knows what he’ll bring. But I’d assume he’ll acclimate just fine and kind of be the soft-spoken, kind of neutral voice that I think is needed and maybe at times to calm me down or tell me to shut up.”

While there will be a new right tackle – and new opportunities to lead (see accompanying video) – there will be continuity on the left side of the line with the return of Elgton Jenkins. A second-round pick last year, Jenkins was selected to the all-rookie team. Of eight rookie guards to play at least 200 pass-protecting snaps, Jenkins was the only one to not allow a sack, according to PFF. Jenkins, for his part, played 570 pass-protecting snaps.

“I think as good as he wants to be,” Bakhtiari said of Jenkins’ potential. “He’s very naturally gifted. I think the thing that separates him is his instincts as a football player. When you can’t really explain why you’re doing certain stuff but you’re doing it, as someone who can relate to that earlier on in my career, that’s extremely effective because when you’re just playing fast and you’re just answering questions that you don’t really know why you’re doing it, that’s awesome because you’re not even having to think about it. I’m excited. Year 2 is usually your biggest jump. I think that he has a chance to make a big jump in his career both on the individual side but also collectively as a team and really prepare our line to another level of dominance that I expect us to have.”