Packers’ Bakhtiari feeling healthy again, upbeat while adapting to Rodgers’ absence

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Green Bay Packers offensive tackle David Bakhtiari doesn’t know the exact whereabouts of the golf cart that transported him and former teammate Aaron Rodgers from the Lambeau Field locker room to practice every day.

Bakhtiari gave Rodgers the golf cart in the summer of 2021. Now Rodgers is gone and so is the golf cart. Bakhtiari instead is taking his Jeep Wrangler to practice while wondering if his old gift has made its way to New York Jets camp yet.

“In the divorce papers, Aaron unfortunately won legally, so he’s allowed to have the cart,” Bakhtiari quipped this week.

This has been a year full of change for Bakhtiari, who protected Rodgers’ blind side for the last decade. The trade of Rodgers and the departure of several other veterans make the 31-year-old Bakhtiari the Packers’ second-oldest player, behind only 32-year-old punter Pat O’Donnell.

Bakhtiari noted this is hardly the first time he’s had to bid farewell to a good friend and teammate, citing the exits of former Packers offensive linemen Josh Sitton. T.J. Lang, Bryan Bulaga and Corey Linsley.

But it does seem the Packers are entering a transitional phase after making seven playoff appearances and reaching the NFC championship game four times during Bakhtiari’s 10 seasons. Bakhtiari has acknowledged the Packers are rebuilding – something his teammates have disputed – though he’s been careful to point out that doesn’t mean they can’t have a successful season.

Bakhtiari first used that word to describe the Packers publicly on the “Bussin’ with the Boys” podcast in April, when the Rodgers trade negotiations were still going on. Bakhtiari also got some attention for referring to the Packers as “they” on that podcast, though he later clarified that he was referring to Green Bay’s front office and not the team itself.

During the Packers’ organized team activities this week, Bakhtiari said he feels grateful for his situation and is ready to be a model teammate.

“Whatever they want to have me to be for this team, I’m going to be for the team,” said Bakhtiari, a 2013 fourth-round pick from Colorado. “We’ve had a great relationship over the decade and going into my 11th year, and that’s how I’m going to treat it. I’m not going to sit here and be a (ticked) off old veteran. I’ve been very fortunate and blessed. I’m a Day 3 guy who worked his (butt) off.

“At times, Green Bay was very happy and very fortunate for what I was doing for them, and at times I’ve been very fortunate for what Green Bay’s done for me. So that’s exactly how I’m looking at it.”

The Packers need a big season from Bakhtiari, who finally has turned the corner after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on Dec. 31, 2020.

That injury sidelined him for the rest of that season and limited him to one game in 2021. He returned last year to play 11 games — he missed three late-season games after an appendectomy — and remained one of the league’s top pass-blocking tackles when available.

“I have finally not had a surgery for the first time in the last two or three offseasons,” Bakhtiari said. “I had four surgeries in 20 months.”

The presence of a healthy Bakhtiari at left tackle and Elgton Jenkins at left guard — both were recovering from knee injuries at this time last year — is expected to provide plenty of security for new quarterback Jordan Love.

“We talked about how we want to be the best left side in the NFL,” Jenkins said.

Bakhtiari has the credentials to suggest that’s possible. He was playing well enough to earn first-team All-Pro honors for a second time the season he tore his ACL. He’s been a second-team All-Pro on three other occasions.

The one achievement that has eluded him is a Super Bowl appearance. Bakhtiari says that goal “gets me up every morning and that puts me to bed early every night.”

For the Packers to have any shot at making that a realistic possibility this year, they need a huge season from their offensive line. While the Packers made plenty of changes elsewhere on their roster, they didn’t lose any of their top offensive linemen.

“Not too many new faces, so we can really kind of get going with a little more complex stuff and start establishing ourselves early,” Bakhtiari said. “I think that’s something that’s going to be big for us this year as an entire unit. Each one’s got to fill their role and pick up where they need to pick up.”