Packers LT David Bakhtiari off to good start in return from torn ACL. What's next?

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It didn’t matter how David Bakhtiari felt after Sunday’s 14-12 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Green Bay Packers' left tackle admitted he was “pumped full of adrenaline” after his most extensive game action in 21 months.

What mattered was how he felt on Monday.

And Tuesday.

And Wednesday.

That Bakhtiari took part in Wednesday’s practice -- even though coach Matt LaFleur shortened it to a jog-through session -- should ease some of the concern. LaFleur initially said Bakhtiari wouldn’t practice on Wednesday but would work on Thursday. It was not clear what changed, but the plan was flipped before practice, and Bakhtiari now will take Thursday off.

“Just in my interactions with him, he seemed like he was in a good mood,” LaFleur said before practice Wednesday. “So I’m hopeful he’s going to be all right.”

Bakhtiari said after practice on Wednesday that he did not have time to speak with reporters because he was headed into the training room for his regular treatments. However, Aaron Rodgers, who regularly drives Bakhtiari to and from practice in his golf cart, echoed LaFleur’s assessment of his teammate’s frame of mind.

“He seems in pretty good spirits,” Rodgers said after Wednesday’s practice.

What matters now is how he feels on Thursday and every day leading up to Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS) and beyond.

“The win was to get me out there and get me through,” Bakhtiari said after the game.

The mental aspect of that should not be overlooked either -- for Bakhtiari has been down this road once before.

After his first return from his Dec. 31, 2020 torn left ACL, he shut it down after a 27-snap stint against the Detroit Lions in the 2021 regular-season finale. What was supposed to be a warmup for the playoffs turned into another nightmarish -- his word -- offseason.

The Packers tried just about everything imaginable in the lead-up to Bakhtiari’s return last week to make him comfortable. They let him sit out most of training camp, and when the regular season began, they gave him a practice plan that never included more than two days on the field during the week. The first week, he took Friday off. The second week, Thursday. Last week, it was Wednesday.

Bakhtiari might not be considered fully recovered both physically and mentally until he plays an entire game without any setbacks to follow. LaFleur would not say whether the plan for Sunday against the Patriots would mirror the left tackle rotation from last Sunday against the Buccaneers, when Bakhtiari alternated series with Yosh Nijman. In the end, Bakhtiari played 35 snaps and Nijman 27.

When, or if, Bakhtiari returns to full time, the Packers could still keep Nijman in the lineup. One possibility would be to move him to right tackle, and then put Elgton Jenkins back at left guard (where he was a Pro Bowler in 2020). Jenkins returned in Week 2 from his ACL tear but was not put in a rotation and has played every snap at right tackle since coming back.

“Right now we’re still trying to figure out: Is Dave going to play a whole game or not?” Packers offensive line coach Luke Butkus said. “Who knows? We’ll figure all that stuff out, but it’s nice to have a ‘73’ [Nijman’s number] next to me instead of both of those guys being in street clothes on the sideline.”

Whether Bakhtiari can return to his All-Pro level (he was either first or second team every season from 2016 to 2020), may not be known for weeks. But performance was not an issue on Sunday.

According to ESPN’s blocking analysis, Bakhtiari’s run-blocking win percentage of 82.4 against the Buccaneers was actually higher than his rate over the previous five seasons, when he combined to win 77.4% of his blocks. His pass-blocking win rate was down from 94.6% to 83.3%, but it was a miniscule sample size. There were only six graded pass-block snaps in Bakhtiari's 35 plays in which Rodgers held the ball long enough for the metric to actually measure.

Rodgers wasn’t getting the ball out quickly just to help Bakhtiari. He’s been doing it throughout the first three games of the season. Of his 94 pass attempts this season, 53 have come out in 2.5 seconds or less from the time of the snap. That’s 56.3% compared to 47.2% over the previous three seasons, which were his first three in LaFleur’s offense.

“I think it helps all the guys,” Rodgers said. “Dave’s always getting on me about holding the ball too long or dropping too deep in the pocket. I definitely wanted to get the ball out against [the Buccaneers] and a lot of the stuff is get the ball into our guys’ hands and let them go. That’s why the ball was coming out quick.”