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David Bakhtiari isn't kidding around with his rehab

Packers’ five-time All-Pro left tackle has had “no hiccups” in ACL recovery

T Dennis Kelly & David Bakhtiari
T Dennis Kelly & David Bakhtiari

GREEN BAY – Just as he did in the spring, David Bakhtiari isn't making any promises as to when he'll be back on the field.

But while his ACL rehab continues to go well, his usual jokes and shenanigans are providing some lighter moments to help the Packers' five-time All-Pro power through the daily grind.

"He loves to have fun around here, especially (when) training camp can get mundane at times," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said about his sidelined left tackle. "He's always bringing a lot of life to it. Another pro's pro."

Bakhtiari's sense of humor emerged from behind the scenes in the second practice of training camp, right after the team signed Dennis Kelly as a veteran insurance policy at tackle. The two have been tagged on social media as doppelgangers, and the resemblance is legitimate, so they swapped jerseys and Kelly took the field for his first practice in Green Bay wearing Bakhtiari's No. 69.

It fooled some observers, briefly, and Bakhtiari later emerged from his rehab in the Hutson Center with Kelly's No. 79.

Fast forward a few days, and Bakhtiari decided to quiet all the noise quarterback Aaron Rodgers had been making about never getting a gift from Bakhtiari, and how an Aston Martin Vanquish – a luxury sports car with a price tag well into six figures – was what he always wanted.

So Bakhtiari got Rodgers an Aston Martin Vanquish … in the form of a custom golf cart, which the three-time MVP QB has been driving between the locker room and the practice field.

"I love having fun," Bakhtiari said. "I will continue to have fun, as long as I'm taking care of my business. The moment that my business isn't being taken care of, my fun goes out the window."

That business has been his rehab from the torn ACL sustained on New Year's Eve last year, days before the regular-season finale at Chicago. The injury robbed Bakhtiari of being part of the playoff run and the Packers of their best pass protector at the season's most crucial time.

Without setting a timeline, Bakhtiari feels everything is on track in his recovery, and the best indication of where he is will be revealed when final roster decisions are made at the end of camp.

Having not yet practiced, Bakhtiari is on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. If he begins the regular season on PUP, he will be inactive for a minimum of the first six weeks. If the Packers feel he'll be ready before that, he'll be on the active roster.

In the meantime, the key is constant communication between Bakhtiari and the medical staff, with both sides focused on full clearance only when he can safely play without undue risk of reinjury.

"The best rehab is the one that adjusts constantly on the fly, so how much your body can tolerate, because you want to basically toe the line without crossing it," Bakhtiari said of his approach to returning as soon as possible. "Once you do, you kind of set yourself back and you don't want to be in that position. I haven't had any hiccups so that's nice. I'm kind of staying the course."

That's not to say he doesn't get antsy as each day of practice goes by with his participation limited to chatting up guys on the sideline.

"It is a grind, but being away, I'm like really itching to get back out there," he said. "I don't like seeing other people do my job, but it's all part of the course I have to play."

The one he's watching fill in for him is third-year pro Elgton Jenkins, the Packers' most versatile lineman who stepped in at left tackle for half a game last year (at San Francisco) when Bakhtiari was out and other injuries forced additional shuffling.

Jenkins, a Pro Bowler at his best position of guard, has been rock solid thus far in his new spot, and he credits having a nine-year veteran like Bakhtiari as a sounding board for helping smooth the transition.

"He plays a big role," Jenkins said. "I sit right in front of him in meetings, so he's always in my ear just telling me things, helping me out with the small details. His experience is way, way, way above mine, so he helps me out a lot."

Bakhtiari joked that Jenkins is such a good player he doesn't need him and has "everything figured out." In all seriousness, he wholeheartedly respects Jenkins' game and believes the 2019 second-round pick has a whale of a career in store that has barely gotten started.

But the highly accomplished elder in the offensive line room would love nothing more than to kick Jenkins back inside to left guard as soon as he can.

Will it be Week 1 at New Orleans? No one, from LaFleur to GM Brian Gutekunst to Bakhtiari himself, has ruled it out. That would be just 8½ months removed from the injury, though, an extremely accelerated time frame.

In any event, the Packers are planning to have Bakhtiari back at some point in 2021 and he'll probably make it look as though he never got hurt in the first place. That'll be his next bit of foolin'.

"I know he's going to come back stronger," Jenkins said. "He's a big dog, he gets out there and works, he's going to do his thing so once he comes back. I feel like he'll be even better than he was before."

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