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If David Bakhtiari can’t play, Packers may need to shuffle offensive line

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Packers Buccaneers Football

Packers offensive tackle David Bakhtiari, center, moves to block Buccaneers' Shaquil Barrett on Sunday in Tampa, Fla.

GREEN BAY — No one has to tell Matt LaFleur how much of a difference a franchise left tackle makes for an offense. The Green Bay Packers coach has been on staffs in the past without one, and he’s been around David Bakhtiari long enough to know how good he has it with the four-time All-Pro.

Which is why, if the chest injury he suffered in Sunday’s 38-10 loss at Tampa Bay keeps Bakhtiari sidelined this week against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium, LaFleur knows the challenge of bouncing back from that butt-kicking will be all the more challenging.

Bakhtiari was hurt on the Packers’ first offensive play of the second half. He was blocking Tampa Bay linebacker Lavonte David on a toss to running back Aaron Jones to the left, and when Bakhtiari tripped over fullback John Lovett at the end of the play, Buccaneers defensive lineman William Gholston crash-landed on top of him.

The Packers were already trailing 31-10 at the time, and Bakhtiari, who was clearly in pain after the 281-pound Gholston came down on top of him with his full body weight, did not return to the game. Veteran Rick Wagner, who hasn't played left tackle since his senior year at the University of Wisconsin, played the final 23 offensive snaps at left tackle and struggled, allowing Jason Pierre-Paul to stuff Jones on the next carry and later missing a block on David that led to Jones being tackled for a loss. He also gave up at least one quarterback pressure.

Bakhtiari did not practice Wednesday, and if he can’t go against the Texans, the Packers would have several options for replacing him.

It seems unlikely that LaFleur and offensive line coach Adam Stenavich would opt for playing Wagner out of position, so they may do what they did in the opener at Minnesota when veteran right tackle Billy Turner was injured: Shift second-year left guard Elgton Jenkins to the edge. Jenkins is capable of playing all five offensive line spots and given how well he played against the Vikings, he might be the Packers’ best option.

If Jenkins moved to left tackle, the Packers would then likely start rookie Jon Runyan at left guard, where he spent almost all of training camp with the No. 2 line. Runyan has been forced into action twice this season at right guard due to injuries there.

The Packers could also move Turner to left tackle, where he has played before, and start Wagner on the right side, where he’s spent his entire NFL career after spending time at that spot with the Badgers.

“That’s just something that we’re going to try to evaluate throughout the week, and then you guys will see it on gameday,” LaFleur said.

LaFleur gave no update on Bakhtiari’s condition Wednesday, and the team merely lists his injury as a “chest” injury. It’s unclear if that means a muscle injury or if it’s some sort of rib injury. Presumably, the Texans would line up ex-UW star J.J. Watt over Bakhtiari’s replacement, since Watt moves all across the Houston defensive line and would likely have the edge on any matchup if Bakhtiari is out.

Bakhtiari had played all but five of the Packers’ offensive snaps on the season before the injury, something LaFleur said earlier in the season was something he did not take for granted.

“He’s a hell of a player, and we’re fortunate. Anytime you’ve got that type of player on the left side, that’s an important part of any offense,” LaFleur said at the time. “You want to have a premier left tackle to protect the quarterback’s blindside. I just think he’s a complete player — he’s great in the run and he’s great in the pass. I think he’s done an outstanding job, I think he continues to get better.”

Asked after Wednesday’s practice how comforting it is to have Bakhtiari, who has started 50 consecutive games including playoffs, to protect him, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers spoke of how Bakhtiari and Chad Clifton, the starter from 2008 through 2011 during Rodgers’ early time as a starter, were vital security blankets.

Rarely has Rodgers played without either one of them on the blind side, save for the 2011 season when Clifton played in only seven games (including playoffs) because of injuries. Marshall Newhouse started in Clifton’s place.

“It’s really comforting,” Rodgers replied. “Obviously ‘Cliffy’ played a high level for a long, long time. Dave (has been) even at a higher level, being an all-pro multiple times, so that’s been nice. Loved Marshall as well. Have had a couple in-between, various times different guys filled in at tackle, like Lane Taylor, Josh Sitton.

“There’s always a special relation between a starting quarterback and left tackle. A lot of trust goes into it being a right-handed quarterback. If he can’t go, we’re going to have to see who’s in there and make sure they feel comfortable from the first snap on.”

Extra points

Defensive tackle Tyler Lancaster (shoulder), safety Darnell Savage (quadriceps), tight end Robert Tonyan (ankle) and running back/returner Tyler Ervin (wrist) also did not practice. … Inside linebacker Krys Barnes (shoulder/calf), outside linebacker Rashan Gary (ankle), cornerback Kevin King (quad), tight end Marcedes Lewis (knee), outside linebacker Preston Smith (shoulder), outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith (ankle) and wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown (knee) were limited during practice, which LaFleur intentionally made a low-impact session. “We’re just a little bit banged up right now and we’re going to take a little bit off physically,” LaFleur said, calling the practice “more of an above-the-neck type practice than maybe your traditional Wednesday.”


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