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Ankle? Contract? Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari says 'nothing's holding me back'

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- David Bakhtiari had all the evidence he needed, right there on his iPad.

As part of a little offseason self-study project he’d decided to do, the Green Bay Packers fourth-year left tackle had asked the team’s video department to upload cut-ups of him dating back to his rookie season of 2013. And he couldn’t believe what he saw.

“You see some of the clips sometimes -- I’m working on some film eval of my rookie year -- and I’m like, ‘Who the f--- is that dude?’” Bakhtiari said following the Packers’ open-to-the-public, organized-team-activity practice Thursday. “Wiry, skinny ... [I’m thinking], ‘I can’t believe that used to be my stance, I can’t believe that’s how I used to move.’

“I mean, I’ve grown a lot from my rookie year.”

That he has. Bakhtiari, a fourth-round pick from Colorado, was a lifesaver for the Packers that first season, when veteran starter Bryan Bulaga suffered a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee during training camp. While Bakhtiari played well -- grading on the curve of being a rookie and being an emergency starter -- he played far better in his second season.

Then came last season, when knee soreness plagued him throughout training camp and a severe left ankle injury suffered Dec. 20 at Oakland derailed his season. Once again, looking back at himself on film, he didn’t look, well, like himself.

Bakhtiari missed the Packers’ next three games -- the final two regular-season games against Arizona and Minnesota and their NFC wild-card playoff game at Washington -- before limping his way through their postseason rematch with the Cardinals.

“When I first hurt it, and even when I came back for that Arizona [playoff] game, a lot of weight-bearing stuff was tough. I damn near I had almost all the tape in the training room on that ankle,” Bakhtiari said. “I did everything I could to basically turn it into a stub, to make sure it was stable, to go out there and give the best effort I could because that’s what the team needed. They wanted me out there, I wanted to be out there.”

Now, Bakhtiari might be facing the uncertainty of a contract year, but he is certain about two things: The ankle injury won’t be an issue this season, and he’s not going to play any other position -- for the Packers or a new team after free agency -- than left tackle.

Bakhtiari said he spent his offseason workouts doing additional, specific exercises to strengthen his ankle and the surrounding area -- toe raises, for example, to strengthen his calf -- and he has continued that work since returning to Green Bay for the offseason program on April 18. He is not, the 24-year-old emphasized, concerned the injury is lingering and will affect him this season.

“The concerns long-term, I’m not worried about that at all. If it was I would have gotten surgery to make sure it wouldn’t become a long-term issue,” said Bakhtiari, who has been taking his full complement of practice snaps in OTAs. “[The ankle] was something I had to pay attention to and will pay attention to. But any concerns? If it was lingering, if it was a liability, I don’t think you’d see me practicing.

“I’m going full go and nothing’s holding me back.”

Including any apprehension about his impending free agency, or Packers general manager Ted Thompson trading up in the second round of the draft to take Indiana's Jason Spriggs, who could be the team’s next left tackle if Bakhtiari's price tag soars and the Packers let him walk. Bakhtiari is one of five offensive linemen -- starting guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang, sixth man JC Tretter and backup tackle Don Barclay are the others -- entering the final seasons of their contracts.

“We’ve got a lot of guys up, and if I’m gambling, I’m going to bet that not all of us come back,” Bakhtiari said. "But that’s something you don’t want to think about and that shouldn’t be our topic of conversation.”

That’s not to say Bakhtiari isn’t aware of recent left-tackle contracts. He knows he’s in line for a deal that’ll likely average more than $10 million per season.

“Do I know what has happened [with other left tackles]? Yes. I’m not living under a rock,” Bakhtiari said. “But am I coming in every day with a notebook researching finances and wondering what I’m going to do?”

Instead, he’s focusing on having a healthy, productive season and further proving himself as a top left tackle. Before the draft, some thought Bakhtiari would play guard in the pros, but after 50 starts (including playoffs) at left tackle, he believes he’s established himself there and doesn’t expect to play anywhere else.

“Name another left tackle who’s made 50-plus starts and then gone to another position,” Bakhtiari said. “I’m not going to be a pioneer. I’m not going to start a new trend. I’m going to stay at my position. I’m a tackle. That’s what I’ve been ever since I got pads on.”