GREEN BAY – David Bakhtiari laid down the challenge to Mike Daniels and the rest of the Packers’ defensive front well before training camp even started.
Looking to spice up training-camp practices and pass a little time during the summer months, the Pro Bowl left tackle sent a text to his teammate of his latest purchase.
Pictured was a WWE world heavyweight championship belt, complete with a Packers nameplate and matching studs.
“I bought a WWE heavyweight championship belt just to have a little more fun in the run-blocking stations,” Bakhtiari said. “This just kind of helps us take our mind off it and add a little more competition because the last thing we want is to be lethargic out there and have Coach screaming at us and telling us to redo it again or any of that.”
As the Packers put the pads on for the first time Saturday, Bakhtiari strutted onto Nitschke Field with the gold belt draped on his right shoulder, ready for all-comers in line drills.
The idea naturally resonated with Daniels, a WWE fan and close friend of current tag-team champion Ettore “Big E” Ewen, with whom he played at the University of Iowa.
“I love it, man,” Daniels said. “He texted me when he bought the belt. He said, ‘OK, Mike D, this is it. This is for us, man.’ I knew exactly where he was coming from. It’s all about bringing that great competition.”
Daniels has been vocal about increasing the Packers’ intensity in recent years. The introduction of a championship belt to the offensive and defensive front rivalry fits perfectly with that mentality.
The playful – yet passionate – war of words between Bakhtiari and Daniels has been brewing over the first two days of training camp, but it wasn’t until Saturday’s first padded practice that Bakhtiari finally busted out the title belt.
Both sides brought plenty of energy to Saturday’s practice in the one-on-one drills, which saw Daniels and starting left guard Lane Taylor face off twice, and the half-line period.
In theory, Bakhtiari says the belt will be bestowed on the side that prevailed in whatever run-blocking drills the team conducted that day, though it’s an admittedly subjective process.
Needless to say, Bakhtiari felt pretty good about the offense’s showing on Saturday, as he proudly hoisted the title over his head once the practice concluded.
“If Mike Daniels can win it – if – then he can walk it back and have it in his locker,” Bakhtiari said. “But so far he’s 0-1.”
Daniels felt a little differently about Bakhtiari’s arbitration.
“I’m always going to say the defense wins, he’s always going to say the offense wins,” Daniels laughed. “I’ll just steal it out of his locker when he’s gone and put it in mine and that’s how we’ll figure out who has the belt, I guess.”
While padded practices may occasionally lead to some heated moments between the offense and defense during camp, it’s never personal. Both Bakhtiari and Daniels agree whatever happens on the practice field is left on the field.
The two have a deep mutual respect for one another rooted in the fact both players were taken in the fourth round of their respective draft classes – Daniels in 2012 and Bakhtiari in 2013.
Both have since have signed extensions with the Packers in recent years, but the chip that formed from being passed over in the NFL Draft remains forever on their shoulders.
Right next to the championship belt.
“What he’s trying to do – and I love it – is that he’s trying to get the best out of everybody,” Daniels said. “He’s had a lot of success, he’s a Pro Bowler, an All-Pro and now he wants everyone else to come up to that level, too, and he knows the best way to get that out of people is by demanding great competition.
“He wants that free-agent rookie to come at him the same way Clay (Matthews) and Nick Perry would. That’s going to make him better and it’s going to make them better.”