Packers will 'rally around each other' in David Bakhtiari's absence

Having responded to adversity all year, Green Bay’s offensive line faces its biggest challenge yet

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T David Bakhtiari

GREEN BAY – The Packers will be without All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari for the rest of the season, but Head Coach Matt LaFleur stressed Friday the team must, and will, forge ahead.

"I told our players, nobody's going to be feeling sorry for us as a football team," LaFleur said. "Our standards, our expectations don't change.

"We're fortunate to have a lot of depth at that position and the versatility of guys to play multiple spots. We'll lean on that. We'll rally around each other and we'll make the best of it."

Bakhtiari injured his knee during Thursday's practice. LaFleur didn't get into the specifics of the injury, but multiple reports have indicated it's an ACL tear and LaFleur made reference to a "long road ahead of him" in rehab. ACL injuries typically require a 10- to 12-month recovery period.

Green Bay's offensive line has dealt with injuries and position shuffling all year, but not having a four-time (possibly soon-to-be five-time) All-Pro for a playoff run will be the unit's biggest challenge yet.

The Packers did lose Bakhtiari for three games back in late October/early November to a rib injury. In those contests, Billy Turner shifted over from the right side to play left tackle and Rick Wagner took over at right tackle.

That could be the solution again beginning Sunday at Chicago in the regular-season finale, but that will depend on Wagner's availability. He exited last week's game with Tennessee with a minor knee injury of his own, but he has practiced on a limited basis the past couple of days and LaFleur said "we think he's going to be good to go."

The head coach also suggested the offensive line's makeup could change by the week depending on matchups. Second-year guard Elgton Jenkins, who was just named to his first Pro Bowl, played some left tackle in a pinch earlier this year, and Wagner has experience there, too.

"Adam Stenavich and Luke Butkus do a great job with that room," LaFleur said, referring to his two offensive line coaches. "But also those guys take it upon themselves to prepare the right way. This is the best O-line group I've ever been around, and I'm not just talking about the players. I'm talking about the mindset in that room."

On a personal level, the team feels for Bakhtiari, one of the most respected and accomplished veterans in the locker room. He's the third-longest tenured Packers player after Aaron Rodgers and Mason Crosby, and he recently signed a contract extension making him the highest-paid offensive lineman in the league.

"It's tough to see a guy go down at practice like that," said Rodgers, a best friend. "You're hoping for the best. I got a call from him yesterday late in the afternoon. I was hoping for some good news, didn't get it.

"You gotta move on but right now it's still a little raw. We're still sad and hurting for Dave just because it's our brother and it's our left tackle, our teammate. It's been a tough time for us, and times that by infinity is probably where he's at right now."

LaFleur said when the injury happened, it took the team a while to refocus during Thursday's practice. He added the team responded well Friday with a "clean" practice.

The psyche of the team is naturally a concern when a blow like this is delivered right before playing an important game at this stage of the season. The Packers are trying to secure the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs while the Bears are pushing to earn a wild-card spot. And whether or not the Packers get that top seed and a bye, the postseason is right around the corner.

"I think my job is just to stress to our guys the importance of what we have in front of us, and to attack each moment of every day," LaFleur said.

"You can't let it affect your attitude, the way you prepare, the effort you give, the focus you bring every day. We've got a job to do and that is to go on Sunday and play a team that is fighting for everything they have in front of them as well."

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