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Long and winding road for David Bakhtiari takes positive turn

Back on the practice field for Packers, five-time All-Pro has new perspective with same determination

T David Bakhtiari
T David Bakhtiari

GREEN BAY – David Bakhtiari's motivation to play in Week 1 is "extremely high."

But if there's one thing the Packers' All-Pro left tackle has learned through an extensive and excruciating rehab with his knee, it's that what he wants doesn't dictate the process anymore.

"That was tough for me to accept," Bakhtiari said, after his first 2022 practice on Sunday, of not being able to simply heal himself by force of will. "That's how it's been with all the other injuries.

"I tore my hamstring and hip flexor (in 2017), and I was like, 'All right, I'll give it two weeks.' I broke my ribs (in early 2020), like, 'I don't care if you're complaining, we've got something to do. Suck it up.'

"This was something like …"

…beyond any difficulties he could have imagined. Due to two follow-up procedures over the last year and a half after the initial reconstructive surgery, Bakhtiari's rehab and recovery have stopped and re-started twice.

It's been everything from frustrating to unpleasant to exhausting, and at this point there's still a lot he doesn't know – such as when he'll advance from individual drills to 11-on-11, when he'll be cleared for a game, or how exactly he'll perform having played just one half of football in the last 20 months.

Regarding all those questions, he's simply taking it "day by day," which he repeated to reporters several times, knowing full well how cliché it sounds yet how true it is.

It's the only way he's looked at the situation for quite some time now, and Sunday was a good day, getting applause from his fellow offensive linemen when he started doing drills and then getting an official "welcome back" from Head Coach Matt LaFleur in the post-practice team huddle, which he broke down with a few concluding words.

All the unknowns aside, what hasn't wavered are his love for the game and his determination to not let all the setbacks keep him from it, no matter how much they wore him down. He never considered this is what the road would look like after the initial ACL tear in practice on Dec. 31, 2020, but the 10-year veteran also never contemplated just walking away.

"It's been the journey I've had to attack, and I just know that I'm not going to break no matter what," he said.

"I definitely was not gonna go out without fighting. Definitely tested me. I don't know if my test is done yet."

Which is why he's not getting ahead of himself and obsessing over any timelines, with the opener at Minnesota now less than three weeks away.

He had a timetable last year, after the first follow-up procedure, to be ready for the playoffs, and he played the first half of the regular-season finale at Detroit as a big step in preparing for that. Only the knee did not respond well, so he missed the postseason for the second year in a row.

The latest reboot has been just as challenging, physically and mentally, and while Bakhtiari's goal of returning to his All-Pro level hasn't changed, the perspective has.

He's no longer out to win this battle in spite of his troublesome knee, but rather in "partnership" with it, to use his word. That's how he'll get back his health, and the game he loves.

"It's just tough when it gets taken from you and it's not by your choice," he said. "This time now, I realize that I cannot control as much as I want to. I like to be in control of my destiny. It's more like, 'Hey, what are you feeling like today, knee? How are you doing? You holding up well? Cool, we're in this together, man.'

"Really grateful to be back out there again, and hopefully no more back and forth."

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