GREEN BAY – It was a long, sometimes frustrating journey back to the football field for David Bakhtiari, but once there, it was like the All-Pro left tackle had never left.
Having overcome three knee surgeries over a span of 18 months, Bakhtiari provided the stability at left tackle Green Bay had grown accustomed to during his first eight NFL seasons before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament on Dec. 31, 2020.
There were obstacles, including an emergency appendectomy that sidelined Bakhtiari for three December games, but he looked like himself again at the most pivotal post on the offensive line.
"It was huge to have Dave back," running back Aaron Jones said. "He's an elite left tackle, and we feel his presence when he's out there. Just happy he was able to get healthy and overcome everything that he did."
Speaking at his locker for 20 minutes on Monday, Bakhtiari reflected on his wild ride back to the field. After playing just 27 snaps in 2021, the 6-foot-4, 310-pound tackle underwent a third procedure on his knee in the offseason that sidelined him through the opening weeks of training camp.
The Packers kept Bakhtiari inactive for the first two games of the regular season, and even when he returned against Tampa Bay in Week 3, Bakhtiari still rotated with Yosh Nijman for a few games to ease his transition back into the lineup.
There was some trial-and-error involved in determining the right weekly schedule to keep Bakhtiari fresh. There was one hiccup against Washington in Week 9 where Bakhtiari was a late scratch, but by season's end, the 10-year veteran felt he, the athletic trainers and the medical staff developed a routine to properly manage his practice reps.
Prior to his appendectomy on Dec. 2, Bakhtiari had played 174 consecutive snaps over three starts and 116 combined snaps against Minnesota and Detroit after his New Year's Day return. In total, he played 597 snaps over his 11 starts.
"I do love practicing, so I don't want to give it up. Because I like competing," Bakhtiari said. "It's very egotistical for me to say, but I don't really think I need too much practice at this point. I have 10 years of experience. I've done well over tens of thousands of pass sets. I've kind of seen it all, felt it all.
"So really it's, 'Give me a couple pass sets, a couple aiming points. Let me kind of fit in my pads a little bit.' Everything banks into my head and (then it's about) making sure I know who to block and what the game plan is. Then, things kind of make sense."
Bakhtiari has no plans on shutting it down anytime soon, citing the goals he has for both himself and the Packers, who finished 8-9 and missed the playoffs for the first time under LaFleur this season.
His play would suggest he's still every bit the same All-Pro left tackle he was before the knee injury with most NFL analytic firms not attributing a single sack to Bakhtiari's pass blocking this season. In his season-ending news conference, Head Coach Matt LaFleur answered in the affirmative when asked if he'd seen enough for Bakhtiari to remain the Packers' left tackle.
Entering 2023, Bakhtiari doesn't believe the knee should be an issue. In addition to the modified in-season schedule, the 31-year-old tackle now can use his offseason to train instead of rehab.
"A lot of that is just getting time to let things heal and also just growing muscle so I can protect my knee and also compete with the surfaces, with the pressures, with the strength," Bakhtiari said.
"I look at the offseason as putting on your armor and then going through a season you get deteriorated throughout the year, so I don't have a chance to put on my armor. … Thankfully, did a really good job talking to training room, strength staff, even bringing in people from outside, making sure I can get myself to grow."
With no surgeries to prep for, Bakhtiari said he's excited to spend time with his wife, Frankie, and newborn daughter, Felix, whom the couple welcomed only a few days after Bakhtiari's appendectomy.
A smiling Bakhtiari said he already has formulated preliminary plans in his mind for how he can tailor his workouts while also spending time with her.
With still plenty left to play for, Bakhtiari hasn't lost his love of the game and looks forward to what lies ahead. Yes, the possibility of injury is ubiquitous in football, but Bakhtiari finally feels built for battle again.
"I'm curious to see what new obstacles are probably gonna come my way. That's life, right?" said Bakhtiari, with a smile. "I really think I've kind of went through the gamut, so I would like to have some nice sunshine, no clouds. That would be nice."