David Bakhtiari's ongoing saga has obscured important development: Yosh Nijman's emergence
From undrafted rookie to starting left tackle, Yosh Nijman has grown into more than just a replacement part for the Packers' offensive line.
Minutes into the press conference, Green Bay Packers head coach fielded a question about the health and availability of All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari, the near-daily topic that has consumed the organization since the end of last season.
"I have no idea," LaFleur said of Bakhtiari's chances of making his long-awaited return during Sunday's matchup with Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The fourth-year headman surely understood why the matter keeps surfacing during his media availability. Bakhtiari, one of the premier offensive linemen of his generation, has played exactly 27 snaps since suffering a torn ACL on New Year's Eve 2020. The veteran has now undergone three known procedures on that knee, the most recent coming this offseason more than a year removed from the original injury.
Given all the stops and starts involved in the rehabilitation process, LaFleur understandably hasn't committed to a specific return date.
"We're going to take it one day at a time, and we'll see where we're at on Sunday," he said. "I don't even let my mind go there at this point."
The full extent of what Bakhtiari's injury has cost the Packers on the field over the past two seasons remains unclear. Arguably, his absence kept the team from making a Super Bowl run in 2020, as the Billy Turner-Rick Wagner tackle combination proved ripe for exploitation in the NFC Championship Game. Aaron Rodgers took five sacks that night at Lambeau Field and couldn't lift his team past the eventual-champion Buccaneers.
The Packers had a better plan this past year, moving Elgton Jenkins to the blindside while Bakhtiari worked his way back. However, when Jenkin suffered an ACL tear of his own, the offensive line went from highly capable to merely passable. And against elite competition, the protection proved inadequate, and Bakhtiari only managed a brief appearance in the regular-season finale. In the playoffs, the protection again faltered, with Rodgers absorbing five sacks in another deflating loss at home.
Perhaps Bakhtiari will return to the starting lineup for good this weekend. He practiced Thursday after an apparent scheduled rest day. However, the All-Pro has practiced every week of the young NFL season and hasn't gained clearance to play come Sunday. Green Bay might not even know whether he'll suit up in Tampa until pre-game warmups.
But while Bakhtiari's return remains shrouded in mystery, the entire saga has obscured an important development for the Packers: Yosh Nijman's emergence as a bona fide starting left tackle.