Green Bay Packers LT David Bakhtiari (knee) off PUP, easing back into practice

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- David Bakhtiari's circuitous return from the torn ACL in his left knee that he sustained 598 days ago had him back on the practice field for the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.

Since the initial injury Dec. 31, 2020, the All-Pro left tackle underwent three surgeries on the knee -- the most recent of which came this offseason -- and played only 27 snaps, all in the 2021 regular-season finale at Detroit.

Coach Matt LaFleur announced Sunday that Bakhtiari had been removed from the physically unable to perform list and would be eased back into practice.

LaFleur offered no promise of a return date and said Bakhtiari's availability for the Sept. 11 regular-season opener at the Minnesota Vikings has not been decided. But by removing him from the PUP list, the Packers have made Bakhtiari eligible to play when the season begins. Had he remained on the PUP list after final roster cuts Aug. 30, he would have been out for a minimum of four weeks.

"He's only going to do individual [drills]," LaFleur said before practice. "So you guys can kind of temper the expectations because I know there's going to be a bunch of questions now. It'll just be individual. It's just the next step, but we are excited to get him out there on the grass. We'll take it one day at a time."

It took Bakhtiari almost the entire season last year to get onto the field, and then after the Lions game he was shut down again for the playoffs. In between the initial ACL reconstruction and the Detroit game, Bakhtiari had a second surgery to repair cartilage and reduce swelling in the knee. Bakhtiari on Sunday called the third surgery a "cleanup." When camp opened last month, he called the whole ordeal "my nightmare that I have to live with and I don't know how many days it's been."

Bakhtiari said Sunday the nightmare isn't quite over.

"I'd say when I probably play in a game," Bakhtiari said. "This is another step in the right direction. I don't want to get too ahead of myself. So right now, I'm pleased with where I'm at, and I'm excited to see what tomorrow brings."

At the end of practice, LaFleur called Bakhtiari to the middle of the field to break down the team. Afterward, Bakhtiari said he won't know what the next step is until he sees how his knee reacts to Sunday's work. But he said he's prepared to keep battling whatever happens.

"I think mentally I was more like I was going to have to be pulled away from my ankles with my nails gripping the ground being ripped off, so I definitely was not going to go out without fighting," Bakhtiari said. "Definitely tested me. I don't know if my test is done yet. It would be more by force than personal decision."

The Packers' offensive line was one of the few places where there was uncertainty among the starters. Yosh Nijman has taken almost all of the left tackle reps with the starters in Bakhtiari's absence this summer. But the return of Bakhtiari combined with last week's return of Elgton Jenkins could solidify the line. Jenkins, a Pro Bowl selection at left guard in 2020, played left tackle last season until he sustained a torn ACL in his left knee Nov. 21 at Minnesota. But since coming off the PUP list last week, Jenkins has drilled at right tackle in individual and jog-through work. However, he did not do any full-speed 11-on-11 work last week.

The Packers returned to work Sunday after an off day and began preparations for the final week of the preseason. LaFleur said he still has not decided whether he will play the starters -- most of whom did not play in the first two preseason games -- Thursday in the exhibition finale at Kansas City. LaFleur said he has not ruled out playing Aaron Rodgers & Co. against the Chiefs and added that all the healthy and available players would at least be in uniform to go through pregame warm-ups.

"I see benefits on both sides, but I also see some things that you'd be kicking yourself if something went wrong in a game -- I don't want to say any game is ever meaningless -- but a game that doesn't count on your record," LaFleur said. "There's benefits to going through the mental preparation of getting yourself ready for a game, just working out the kinks of your pregame or whatever it might be. Also, just going out there and playing and having the confidence. I kind of want to go through these next couple days and see where we're at and then make a decision."