GREEN BAY – There are no surprises. Not anymore. Not when Corey Linsley turns on the film and watches David Bakhtiari at work.
Each time the deck has been stacked against the Packers’ starting left tackle, Bakhtiari finds a way forward. It’s been that way since he started blocking the blind side of MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers as a rookie fourth-round pick in 2013 and continues now as an All-Pro left tackle.
So no, this season hasn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows Bakhtiari best. Even when a freak hamstring injury cost him four games in the first month of the season, Bakhtiari stepped back in and continued to perform at the level his teammates have come to expect.
“It’s been impressive for the past four years he’s been here,” said Linsley, the Packers’ starting center and Bakhtiari’s linemate for the past four seasons. “It’s not surprising at all. It’s just who he’s built himself into and the kind of person he is. That’s the standard I expect from him and he’s shown himself to be, to live up to all the time. He continuously does it.”
There are perhaps no two better examples of the Packers’ draft-and-develop philosophy at work than Bakhtiari and Linsley, who have started all 124 games they’ve played during their time in Green Bay.
For Bakhtiari’s part, the fifth-year left tackle constantly has evolved his game over the years, refining his pass-protection and run-blocking techniques en route to his first Pro Bowl nod and a second-team All-Pro selection a year ago.
It was the expectation of many inside the Packers’ locker room that Bakhtiari’s second Pro Bowl selection would come with the rest of the league’s announcements on Tuesday. Instead, he was named one of the Packers’ four alternates on the outside looking in.
While Bakhtiari downplayed the snub when asked Wednesday, Head Coach Mike McCarthy felt strongly about his left tackle’s credentials. A pillar for both Rodgers and Brett Hundley, Bakhtiari took on even greater responsibility after right tackle Bryan Bulaga was lost to a season-ending knee injury in early November.
“I think David Bakhtiari clearly had a Pro Bowl season,” McCarthy said. “His video, what he’s put on film, illustrates that. Obviously, personally, I get to work with him every day, and see what he does day in and day out. So I thought he had a heck of a year. He missed a few games, fought back, and didn’t get through the last Minnesota game but came back the week after. So I think he’s had a really good year.”
As much of a stalwart as Bakhtiari has become on the left side, Linsley has played a vital role at the heart of the offensive line. With two regular-season games remaining, the former fifth-round pick is on pace to play every snap for the first time since his rookie season in 2014.
That’s been essential for an offense that’s weathered the shift from Rodgers to Hundley at quarterback, but also because his primary backup, Justin McCray, has had to start six games at other positions.
McCray, who played in the Arena Football League a year ago, could be in line to make his seventh start Saturday if right guard Jahri Evans is unable to play through the knee injury that held him out of practice this week.
This season has been a breath of fresh air for Linsley after lingering ankle and hamstring injuries hampered him for two seasons and sidelined him for 10 games. After undergoing offseason ankle surgery, Linsley says this is the best he’s felt in years and it’s shown on the field.
“I don’t think we have enough time for me to talk about how good Corey is,” Bakhtiari said. “You never want to see 12 miss a game, but I think he’s definitely helped settle No. 7 (Hundley) down and take a little bit off his plate with Corey’s ability to notice fronts and read IDs and even help make checks on plays – helping him learn, ‘Hey, this is coming, so we’ve got to switch the play up.’ Which has been huge. I don’t think there’s many, if any, centers that can do that in the league.”
Bakhtiari and Linsley aren’t looking for outside recognition or validation. They know when they step onto the field their quarterback, running backs and coaches appreciate what both players bring to the table.
That continues Saturday night against Minnesota, a matchup that pits Bakhtiari across from three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Everson Griffen and Linsley against Pro Bowl nose tackle Linval Joseph.
Right now, that challenge is the focus, not the accolades.
“I’m not going to say I’m happy about it, but it is what it is,” Bakhtiari said of the Pro Bowl omission. “I guess the question that comes to mind is, what are they seeing, really? What are peoples’ motives when it comes to voting? At the end of the day, the only people I truly care about is what my quarterback thinks, and what the (coaches and scouts) on the third floor think.”
An announcement regarding this year’s All-Pro teams will be in the coming weeks. In a strange twist of fate, Bakhtiari’s selection last year as one of the NFL’s four All-Pro left tackles actually came before his admission to the Pro Bowl after Jason Peters was unable to participate due to injury.
If a repeat should occur, Bakhtiari says he’ll find some humor in it.
“I think it’d be pretty funny if I was a one-time Pro Bowler, but a two-time All-Pro,” he said.