Frustration Grows Following Bakhtiari’s Absence

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Rasheed Walker got the news right from the horse’s mouth on Saturday night. David Bakhtiari, the five-time All-Pro left tackle, would not be playing on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons.

“I found out Saturday night that I was officially starting,” Walker said on Monday, a day after a 25-24 loss to the Falcons.

“I’ve been taking first-team reps in practice,” he added. “Bakh told me that he wasn’t going to be able to go Saturday; I was ready to go.”

Later Monday afternoon, coach Matt LaFleur said Bakhtiari’s knee is “injured” and there was “swelling.” So, at least as LaFleur explained it, Bakhtiari’s absence on Sunday had nothing to do with the game being played on artificial turf, a playing surface that has drawn the ire of veterans across the league, including Bakhtiari earlier in the week.

In fact, had the game been played at Lambeau Field, LaFleur said he didn’t “believe” Bakhtiari would have played. At that point, LaFleur cut off questions about Bakhtiari.

“I’m done talking about it,” he said.

For LaFleur, the on-again, off-again status of Bakhtiari’s knee has been a source of consternation for a couple years. In 2021, he made his long-awaited return from a torn ACL in the final game of the season, only to be inactive for the playoff game. In 2022, he missed the first two games, was a surprise inactive at Washington and bowed out for most of the second half at Detroit.

The uncertainty hit a different level against Atlanta. Bakhtiari, who hasn’t practiced since training camp, was questionable on Friday’s injury report.

frustration grows following bakhtiari’s absence

Packers LT David Bakhtiari at Chicago in Week 1. Photo by Dan Powers/USA Today Sports Images

“I just think that’s kind of the nature of the beast, and he’ll probably be questionable all year,” LaFleur said on Friday.

On Sunday, LaFleur, already upset that his team had just coughed up a 12-point lead, was agitated when asked why Bakhtiari was inactive. Was it possible Bakhtiari would sit out the team’s other three artificial-turf games?

“You guys, I’m not going to get into that,” LaFleur said. “We all know this is two years now. I’m not going to get into it. I

Walker, a seventh-round pick from Penn State in 2022, played in only one game as a rookie, with his four snaps coming on special teams. During training camp this summer, he went from the roster bubble to the team’s No. 3 tackle by beating out veteran Yosh Nijman. After playing seven snaps at Chicago in Week 1, Walker got his big chance on Sunday.

“I was excited. We didn’t get the dub – that was the main objective – but I felt like it was the best start for my career, just so I could get a feel for the speed of the game,” Walker said. “I just know more what to expect now. Looking forward to being able to improve every week.”

Helping Walker is the fact Bakhtiari hasn’t practiced before either of the first two games. So, he’s been getting the No. 1 reps with quarterback Jordan Love and alongside the rest of the starting offensive line.

“When they told me I was playing, I was excited,” he said. “I don’t think I was nervous or anything. I was just looking forward to it, just going out there and trying my best to do my job.”

Mostly, he did. At least he did in the passing game, with Pro Football Focus charging him with just one pressure in 28 pass-protecting snaps. He was guilty of a false start with the Packers in scoring position on the opening possession.

Following a strong debut, the Packers should have more confidence in Walker if – or when – he’s pressed into duty when Bakhtiari can’t go.

“I don’t think it went too bad,” Walker said. “Had some good plays, had some bad plays. At the end of the day, all you can do is watch the film and learn from it and be better the next week.”

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