It wasn’t shocking to find out David Bakhtiari will be sitting out offseason workouts, but it was still troubling. After resting his bothersome left knee for five months, it would’ve been nice to see the perennial All-Pro taking snaps with the starters rather than rehabbing with players who were injured many months after he suffered a torn ACL on Dec. 31, 2020.
And while it’s understandable that the organization would be extra careful with a player who was paid $850,000 for each of his 27 snaps last season, what coach Matt LaFleur said on Tuesday should scare the heck out of every Packers fan.
“Our plan all along was to hold him from this and get strong and hopefully be ready to go for training camp,” said LaFleur.
The phrases “get strong” and especially “hopefully be ready to go for training camp” are chilling. It’s been 17 months since that fateful practice on New Year’s Eve when Bakhtiari hurt his knee. It’s been six months since he was activated from the physically unable to perform list (PUP) and began practicing. It’s been nearly five months since he played a few series against the Lions on January 9. And, as mentioned earlier, it’s been over 140 days of nothing but rest and rehabilitation.
Bakhtiari should be 100 percent by now, and the only question about training camp should be how good will he look? Instead, the question is the same today as it was exactly a year ago – when will No. 69 be healthy enough to return to the field?
While torn ACLs have become routine in recent years, and the vast majority of players return to the field within 11 months, serious complications still happen from time to time. Tarik Cohen of the Bears is the most recent example. The explosive running back and kick returner injured his knee against the Falcons on Sept. 27, 2020, and hasn’t played in a game since. Like Bakhtiari, he suffered multiple setbacks while rehabbing and eventually underwent additional surgery.
Cohen’s knee, which suffered more initial damage than Bakhtiari’s, was finally feeling better when he suffered a torn Achilles while working out last month. According to Dr. David Geier, an orthopedic surgeon and former director of sports medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina, there’s a chance Cohen’s latest injury was a result of the prior one.
“It’s not unreasonable to think that just in general with athletes that if you’re recovering from one injury, the muscles around that joint in the rest of that lower extremity still haven’t fully recovered, so you’re subject to another injury,” said Geier.
Besides getting his knee right, Bakhtiari must be careful not to suffer an injury to another part of his body. That’s probably why team doctors are being so careful with him. But at some point, the Packers are going to have to just put their best offensive lineman back on the field and hope for the best. In the meantime, Yosh Nijman will continue to get reps with the starters at left tackle. He played nearly 600 snaps at the position last season and handled himself pretty well.
April’s draft also added three college left tackles in UCLA’s Sean Rhyan, Wake Forest’s Zach Tom, and Penn State’s Rasheed Walker, so if necessary, the organization should be even better equipped to handle life without Bakhtiari in 2022.
It’s safe to assume everybody associated with the Packers was expecting more encouraging news with training camp just 55 days away, but that’s where things stand at the moment. It could be better, but it could also be worse. Just ask Tarik Cohen.