GREEN BAY – Before he was a Pro Bowl left tackle or a second-team All-Pro selection, David Bakhtiari was just another rookie mid-round draft pick looking to make it in the NFL.
It was during his first summer in Green Bay Bakhtiari began learning the ins-and-outs of the Packers’ offensive line, taking backup reps behind starting left tackle Bryan Bulaga.
The opportunity proved priceless after an injury to Bulaga thrust Bakhtiari into a starting role in 2013. Reflecting on what that experience meant to his own development, Bakhtiari fully embraces the role he has on a week such as this.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy dismissed veterans with at least five seasons on their NFL ledger from this week’s minicamp to tailor the final three practices of the 2017 offseason program to the younger players on the roster.
Bakhtiari, who’s entering his fifth NFL season, didn’t make the cutoff. While a veteran of 69 career starts at one of the game’s most important positions might seem out of place among dozens of first- and second-year players, Bakhtiari doesn’t mind.
It’s practically become a rite of passage with how many homegrown offensive linemen the Packers have produced and reminiscent of how Bulaga didn’t mind sharing his time and insight when Bakhtiari was a rookie four years ago.
“Paying it forward is big,” Bakhtiari said. “There were older guys helping me when I got in, so it’s only right that I do the same.”
Bakhtiari is coming off a career year in 2016. He started all 19 games (including playoffs) and established himself as one of the league’s top tackles after signing an extension with the team on the eve of the regular season.
Yet, the 6-foot-4, 310-pound left tackle and his position coach James Campen believe the best is yet to come. Based on the strides Bakhtiari made a year ago, Campen has no doubts about how high his pupil’s ceiling runs.
“I think he has a lot of room to improvement. It’s easy to say that with a guy with his mindset,” Campen said. “He’s never satisfied. He’s going to continue to get better. He’s only going into his fifth year. He has a lot of playing time. David last year got stronger. He made strides with his physique and his physicality. Looking for him to be more accomplished in the run game this year and take another step in that direction.”
Bakhtiari slowly has assumed a more veteran role on the Packers’ offensive line over the past year with the departures of Josh Sitton, T.J. Lang and JC Tretter.
He’s now the one being asked questions inside the meeting room and understandably so. His knowledge bank is vast after learning how to handle the league’s premier pass-rushers on a weekly basis.
Still, he concedes the leadership of the room to Bulaga, now an eight-year veteran coming off arguably his best campaign.
“Bryan’s been the longest-tenured Green Bay Packer and that is his room,” Bakhtiari said. “Bryan’s done a great job in the room and his record speaks for itself, what he’s done in the league, and it’s awesome that I’ve been there. Because when I was younger, I was looking up to him, too.
“So for us to now help out, we’re some of the older guys, the longer-tenured guys with the Packers, I think it’s huge for the locker room.”
Bakhtiari would love nothing more than a full helping of reps, but he understands the importance of pacing himself in June. The coaching staff has been careful with how many snaps he and starting left guard Lane Taylor have taken.
Bakhtiari has spent just as much time assisting with reserve tackles Jason Spriggs and Kyle Murphy, the pair of 2016 draft choices who backed up Bakhtiari and Bulaga all of last season.
“Right now, any time I can lend a helping hand, especially with the younger guys, it’s big,” Bakhtiari said. “We’re only as strong as our weakest link. We need to have our young guys coming up big so we can make a strong push, especially in the latter end of the year.”
Although Bakhtiari is looking forward to potentially getting an early release into summer vacation next year, he’s enjoying his final week of the offseason program.
Even if he would’ve been excused this week, Bakhtiari would’ve still been in town anyway since he’s currently moving into a new house.
“I would have to stay here anyways for the whole moving process,” Bakhtiari said. “I’m not too mad about it.”