GREEN BAY, Wis. – David Bakhtiari’s surgically repaired knee isn’t in All-Pro form. His comedy skill, however, remains elite.
Coming off a torn ACL that ended his season just before the start of the 2020 NFL playoffs, the Green Bay Packers’ stud left tackle went through another on-field rehab workout during Day 1 of minicamp on Tuesday. Might he be ready for Week 1 of the regular season at New Orleans in 96 days?
“I’ve got no problem saying I will 100 percent be ready for the start of training camp – in 2022,” Bakhtiari said with a smile.
Mentally, Bakhtiari is in a much better spot than he was just over five months ago. He was having another brilliant season and the Packers were on the way to winning the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. With a Super Bowl championship looking like more than just a dream, Bakhtiari suffered what he called a “fluke” injury on the practice field before the finale against Chicago. He didn’t know it at the time, but his season was over.
“I laugh about it” now, he said. “I always try to make light in all the situations. I remember just trying to stand on my leg after and I was like, ‘Oh, I did something I have never done before.’ And I was very positive. Dang, I remember talking to my fiancée and just saying, ‘I’m probably not going to play this week. But, you know, we’ll take care of business. We’ll have a bye week and then I’ll be good to go.’
“And then I remember crutching after my MRI, screaming at Doc, saying as I’m like almost speed-crutching over to this office that I better not hear anything that starts with an ‘A.’ That’s just kind of my mentality and something that I can look back on and laugh now but, yeah, it definitely was a whirlwind of emotion. I was crying. I was just in disbelief and crying because I take a lot of pride in this. This is my job. It’s something I’m very passionate, so to have that completely taken away, not only in that moment but also the situation that we were in, that was heavy.”
Bakhtiari’s pity party lasted a couple days. By Jan. 2, he had turned his focus to surgery, which happened on Jan. 7, and the arduous task of recovery. While he was taking some slow-motion pass sets on Tuesday, the rehab started with putting weight on his repaired knee, getting back his range of motion and taking one cycle on a bike. Former Packers Jordy Nelson and Bryan Bulaga, who both successfully returned from their ACL injuries, were among those providing wisdom and encouragement.
“Very humbling,” he said of the process. “The biggest thing that jumps out for me is don’t take things for granted. I really appreciate just walking. I appreciate being able to jog again. I appreciate being able to walk up and down stairs by myself. It was very humbling. It can get very dark for individuals who’ve experienced it. I am a very prideful individual and, for me, asking someone to help me to the bathroom, that weighed on me. But through these humbling experiences, you find a way. For me, it helped me understand to not take things for granted and really appreciate even the littlest of things.”
Not that there’s ever a good time to suffer a major injury but Bakhtiari’s timing was about the worst imaginable. Suffering it on New Year’s Eve meant he was out of action for the team’s playoff run. In what will forever be an unanswerable question, maybe the Packers would have beaten the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and advanced to the Super Bowl if Bakhtiari had been available.
“I mean, coulda, shoulda, woulda. I don’t know,” Bakhtiari said.
Beyond that, the timing of the injury leaves him questionable for the start of training camp and the regular season. There would be no bold proclamations coming from Bakhtiari, though, even while he’s ahead of schedule on his difficult journey. Like a journey of a million miles starts with the first step, the journey through a knee injury is taken one step at a time.
“I’m not going to put any timetable” on it, he said. “For me, I’m going to stack my days, have that turn to weeks, weeks to months, months to years. I have no idea. This is my first time going through this, so I’m just going to attack every day, try to hit every benchmark I can. Once Doc can check me off, I can check myself and I can go out there and not only perform and protect myself but perform at the level that the Packers need me to, I think that’s where you’ll see me return, on that date.”