GREEN BAY – There are emergency spot starts and then there's what Zach Tom has done this season.
The fourth-round pick out of Wake Forest has had a unique rookie year to say the least. While Tom has only seen action in five of the Packers' 13 games this season, included in that are three late-notice starts on the left side of the offensive line.
The first came in Week 7 against Washington after left tackle David Bakhtiari was a late scratch due to a knee issue. The five-time All-Pro returned to his post the following week against Buffalo, but Tom was then pressed into action at left guard after Elgton Jenkins injured his ankle in Friday's practice and was unable to play.
After a short relief appearance in Detroit, Tom had settled into a reserve role on the offensive line until the Friday before Green Bay's Week 13 matchup with Chicago, when Bakhtiari underwent an appendectomy that sidelined him against the Bears.
Like he's done all season, Tom stepped in and showed out while protecting the blindside of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who was battling both thumb and rib injuries entering the Week 13 showdown. Rodgers was hit just three times and not sacked.
"He's had multiple games this year where 90 minutes before the game, 'Hey buddy, you're in,'" said Rodgers of Tom with a laugh. "It's crazy. I've never been a part of something like that during my career.
"I give him a lot of credit because he's played both guard and tackle for us and stepped in and done a really nice job."
With Bakhtiari still on the mend, Tom could be in position for his first NFL start following a full week of preparation this Monday night against the Los Angeles Rams.
The Packers drafted the 6-foot-4, 304-pound offensive lineman in April due in part to the versatility he displayed during his time with the Demon Deacons. He started 13 games at center during his sophomore year before spending his final two seasons at left tackle.
With both Bakhtiari and Jenkins starting training camp on the physically unable to perform list, Tom played everywhere for Green Bay this past summer. He proved to be a quick study and has shown all the signs early on of another Day 3 draft find for the Packers.
"Certainly not like a rookie," said Head Coach Matt LaFleur when asked how Tom has looked in spot duty. "You talk about not flinching in any moment, he's done that. He's stepped right in and feel like for the most part, he's played at a pretty high level. I'm excited about Zach and the flexibility that, again, another guy that can come in and play multiple positions. You can't have enough guys like that."
Prior to the appendectomy, Bakhtiari showed all the signs of settling back into his same-old dominant self after battling some early-season adversity with the knee. Since Week 10, he'd played 174 consecutive snaps over a three-game span. Bakhtiari also had cleared a big obstacle while playing back-to-back games (Dallas and Tennessee) in a span of five days.
LaFleur called it a "longshot" that Bakhtiari would play against the Rams but acknowledged the 10th-year veteran "doesn't need a lot of time on the field to get out there and go play." On his end, Rodgers can't help but feel for his longtime teammate.
"Obviously, my heart goes out to him, being so close to him, but he's kept a good attitude through it," Rodgers said. "It's like, 'What else could go wrong?' almost. It's just really frustrating for him. Lucky that they caught (the appendicitis) before he went out and ruptured his insides there, so it's good to get him sewn up. Not sure what his status will be this week, but I know he's trying to keep a good attitude."
Helping alleviate the sting is the fact Bakhtiari and his wife, Frankie, welcomed the birth of their daughter, Felix, over the bye week. Rodgers joked Thursday about his disbelief that the 31-year-old Bakhtiari is now a father. He also pleasantly recalled the big smile on Bakhtiari's face while looking at photos of his newborn after Thursday's practice.
Meanwhile, Tom continues to prepare for all possibilities. He's been the next man up for the Packers at practically every position since Jake Hanson injured his biceps against the New York Jets in Week 6.
If he gets the call Monday, Tom will be ready and believes a week of reps with the No. 1 offense should help his cause.
"That would definitely be nice to finally get to know about it before Friday," Tom said. "It really won't be any different because I get a bunch of reps there in practice at left tackle, anyway. At the end of the day, it's be ready for anything at this point. That's my mindset."