Packers activate tackle David Bakhtiari from PUP roster

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GREEN BAY – In the lowest moments of his 20-month nightmare, when his left knee was swollen and his mind was weary and the football field couldn’t be further away, David Bakhtiari’s will was put to the test. ‘test.

He had signed a four-year, $92 million extension with the Green Bay Packers six weeks before tearing an ACL on New Year’s Eve 2020, a contract he demanded as the richest annual salary for any player in offensive line in NFL history before I put a pen to it. . This was when Bakhtiari was invincible, the best pass blocker in football. His indomitable spirit continued to crumble in the months that followed, as setbacks recycled, surgeries piled up, and a recovery process meant to take about 10 months nearly doubled.

For Bakhtiari, rehabilitation was hell. The fluid in his knee was not diminishing. His return date looked like a blind, moving target. In those moments, Bakhtiari said, he realized how much he loved the game.

No, he didn’t call it a career, not until he had exercised every last option.

“Mentally,” Bakhtiari said, “I was more like I was going to have to be taken away from my ankles with my fingernails gripping the floor being ripped out. Because I was definitely not going to come out without a fight. It definitely tested me, I don’t know if my test is done yet, but it would be more by force than by personal decision.

Bakhtiari’s long road back ended, he hopes, on Sunday morning. A day earlier, Bakhtiari met with Packers medical staff. They decided it was time for him to be activated from the physically unable to perform roster.

His first practice came Sunday afternoon at Ray Nitschke Field, a week after the Packers activated Elgton Jenkins and Robert Tonyan from PUP. None of the three are doing team reps yet. This will be the biggest hurdle to overcome before deciding if they can play in the Packers’ opener on Sept. 11 at Minnesota.

“It’s just that we’re going to do it day by day,” coach Matt LaFleur said after making it clear that expectations should be tempered. “There are no thoughts regarding Week 1 at the moment. We just want to see how he responds, and when he’s ready, he’ll be ready.

Bakhtiari, 30, didn’t back down from high expectations. He said the motivation was “extremely high” for him to return for the opener. “There are a lot of ambitious things I want to do,” he said. Of course, Bakhtiari, more than anyone, knows how quickly high expectations can fade.

More than once last season Bakhtiari thought he was back. He returned from PUP last November, but scar tissue in his knee kept him from feeling normal. A second surgery was needed to repair the cartilage damage. He came back from that operation to play 27 snaps in the Packers’ final at the Detroit Lions, but even then he wasn’t fully back. The Packers stopped him before last year’s playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers, and Bakhtiari needed a third surgery to clean up the scar tissue.

The third operation forced Bakhtiari to miss the Packers’ entire offseason schedule, placing him on PUP until Sunday.

“It’s unfortunate,” Bakhtiari said. “I would love to be able to sit here and say, ‘It was so fast. It’s all flowing. It’s good.’ But there were a lot of unforeseen things that I had to go through, and it sucked. It definitely wore me down, but I know I’m not going to give up. I don’t care. You can continue in this, we Let’s keep freaking out and igniting the engine, and starting in first gear and going back up to sixth gear. If we stall in gear three, cool. What’s wrong? Alright, cool. Let’s go back.

“It’s more mental attrition that I constantly had to go through. It was when we started to ramp up and then I was like, ‘God, do I have to go through this again?’ That was the part that just sucked, and I knew I could sit here and sulk or take it day by day. Sulking isn’t going to improve my knee.

At a minimum, Bakhtiari’s return from PUP should lead to a spot on the team’s initial 53-man roster. The Packers cannot put Bakhtiari back on PUP to start the season once he is activated.

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When Bakhtiari and Jenkins return, a Packers offensive line that has sifted through a lot of uncertainty in the first three weeks of camp will solidify overnight. Bakhtiari is a two-time All-Pro and two-time Pro Bowl selection. Jenkins was a Pro Bowl left guard in his last full season of 2020 and can play all five positions on the line at a high level.

LaFleur warned not to expect Bakhtiari and Jenkins to come back at full speed immediately after missing so much time on the court.

“You have to knock the rust off,” LaFleur said, “and they’re going to have to work on some things, but they sure know how to play the game. They know what to expect when they go out. Just their ability to communicate and see things, their experience kind of speaks for itself.

“So I think there will be a ton of upside when we can get them out.”

There was a happy vibe around the Packers after Bakhtiari’s first practice. LaFleur allowed his left tackle to break up the post-workout huddle. His teammates cheered Bakhtiari.

At his locker, Bakhtiari spoke for the first time since the opening of the camp. Aaron Rodgers threw a pair of socks at his good friend, surprising Bakhtiari.

“Knowing Aaron,” Bakhtiari said later as he picked up the socks, “these are probably dirty.

It’s now his job to keep his quarterback clean. It’s a responsibility that Bakhtiari never took lightly, but never fully appreciated as he does now. “I didn’t realize how much I loved the game,” Bakhtiari said, “until he tried to take it away from me.”

Bakhtiari said being on the pitch, strapping on his shoulder pads, brought him peace. His world has been restored.

This time, he hopes there will be no setbacks.

“Things that are taken away from you when it’s not by your choice,” Bakhtiari said, “that’s something I’ve had a hard time letting go of. Basically my knee is saying no. and this time now , I realize that I can’t control as much as I want to be in control of my destiny. It’s more like, ‘Hey, how are you feeling today, knee? How are you? just let you know we’re in this together, man.

“It’s been a special moment that I’ve really had so far, and I’m grateful to be back there. I hope that’s it, no more back and forth. Just positive and daily steps in the right direction.

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