GREEN BAY – David Bakhtiari has an expectation for the Packers' offensive line in 2020, and he has his reasons.
In a Zoom call with local media on Tuesday from his home in California, Bakhtiari said he sees "another level of dominance" for Green Bay up front.
It was a short but bold statement, particularly with veteran right tackle Bryan Bulaga no longer the bookend opposite Bakhtiari on the left side for the first time in the last eight years.
But Bakhtiari means no disrespect to his longtime friend and teammate, whose leadership he's being called upon to replace. His confidence in the unit is rooted, among several things, in the offense moving into its second year in Head Coach Matt LaFleur's system.
Throughout the virtual offseason, as Bakhtiari has gotten in tune with his own Year 2 progress, he envisions similar growth applying across the board to fellow returning linemen Billy Turner, Corey Linsley, and especially Elgton Jenkins, last year's promising rookie.
"I think it really just boils down to when you're more comfortable in a system, when you think less, you're playing faster," Bakhtiari said. "Because you're thinking less. And that's true. On a personal level, that's my expectation."
Free-agent acquisition Rick Wagner, stepping in for Bulaga, is the new starter with the most to learn, but Bakhtiari believes he'll settle in just fine. They've known each other for a while, having both entered the league in 2013 (getting drafted 59 picks apart, incidentally; Bakhtiari 109th by the Packers, Wagner 168th by the Ravens), and he sees his new teammate as a strong complement, personality-wise, to himself.
"I'd assume he'll acclimate just fine and kind of be the soft-spoken, neutral voice that I think is needed maybe at times to calm me down or tell me to shut up," he joked.
All kidding aside, Bakhtiari also sees the young left guard next to him, Jenkins, in sky's-the-limit mode. The PFWA All-Rookie selection had the best inaugural year of any Packers linemen since Linsley was named All-Rookie in 2014, and he believes Jenkins' instincts are what set him apart.
His expected jump as a second-year player, combined with everyone else's in the second year of the offense, prompted the "dominance" line to slip out.
Bakhtiari knows his leadership of the group will be a key factor as well. While he considered himself a co-captain to Bulaga the past couple of years, backing up what the elder statesman said, he and guard Lane Taylor are now the two longest-tenured Green Bay linemen.
They'll be looked to by no less than eight linemen currently on the roster with a year or less of NFL experience for any guidance they can provide. Bakhtiari welcomes the responsibility and just plans on being himself.
"The best way to lead is through your own personality because the way that you choose to lead that's genuine comes across and gets absorbed the best," he said. "Whenever you try to be disingenuous or over-stretch who you are to assume that leadership role, I think it gets discredited."
With four straight All-Pro honors to his credit (first team in 2018, second team in '16, '17, '19), Bakhtiari has worked diligently to prepare himself for 2020 despite the limitations of the coronavirus pandemic. He worked out an arrangement to share former teammate Clay Matthews' home gym out in California when other options weren't available, and he's done some outdoor workouts recently with quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Asked about Rodgers' mindset following the Packers' selection of a future QB in the draft, Bakhtiari said "the fire still burns in him deep," a sentiment that applies to Bakhtiari as well as he enters a contract year with no thoughts on his career's end being in sight.
Through weeks of virtual meetings and personal workouts, there also have been recent days football has taken a back seat, as he's listened to his teammates discuss social and racial issues, broadening his own perspective. He anticipates any form of protest or action moving forward will be done collectively as a team.
Whenever the team is together again, Bakhtiari's on-field approach will be one of no excuses. He'll be ready, and he expects his fellow linemen to be as well.
"I enjoy, I love, and I accept the grind in the offseason," he said. "When this whole thing comes together … if they don't want to put any leashes on us, I'm expecting to go, and go fully."