The loss of an All-Pro left tackle would typically spell doom for any NFL team, but thanks to the versatile skillset of one Billy Turner, the loss of David Bakhtiari has gone largely unnoticed as the Green Bay Packers head into Sunday's NFC Championship game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"The reality of this football season for me is no different than my entire career," Turner said last week, via the team's website. "I never know what position I'm playing — from a Monday, to the day before the game, or two days before the game like it was with Dave. You just never know."
Just three days before the Packers' regular-season finale, Bakhtiari suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice. Turner, the team's starting right tackle a majority of the season, was appointed with the demanding task of protecting Rodgers' blindside for the extent of the Packers' playoff run -- one where the 37-year-old QB seeks a second Super Bowl ring while Father Time nips at his heels.
In Green Bay's Divisional Round win over the Los Angeles Rams, Turner and the Packers O-line kept Rodgers' No. 12 jersey perfectly clean. The dominance of the squad in that game was a mere extension of what has been a tremendous season for the O-line as a whole.
During an MVP-caliber campaign from the Packers QB, Rodgers has been sacked just 21 times, which is the fewest amount he's endured through a 16-game regular season.
"I've always felt Billy's best position was tackle, in general," said offensive line coach Adam Stenavich. "When we could move him out there, I felt better having him out there. Him going to left tackle, he's played a lot of different positions over his career. … He's a pretty reliable guy in general. If he can get his mind right that week for whatever position he's going to play, I feel really good about him out there doing his thing and being productive."
Turner was an overlooked free-agent signing by the Packers two years ago. In his first full season with the team, Turner started 18 games (playoffs included) at right guard before going back to right tackle for the 2020 campaign following the return of veteran Lane Taylor. At least, that was the plan until a multitude of injuries confronted the Packers O-line this season, including Taylor's season-ending knee injury in Week 1.
Turner would first make three midseason starts in place for an injured Bakhtiari, who suffered broken ribs in Week 6. Then in December, Turner was put in at right guard after Corey Linsley went on a three-week injured reserve stint.
Turner was slated to go back to right tackle just ahead of the playoffs, but that's when Bakhtiari's injury reared its head. Not only has Turner been a vital piece for one of the NFL's best offensive lines, the 29-year-old has also become a locker-room favorite in Green Bay.
"I knew nothing other than when I met him, he asked to be called Bill," Rodgers recalled on Wednesday. "At that point, I don't think I knew anyone under 50 named Bill. Here's this mountain of a man with dreads and glasses and a super-cool outfit wanting to be called Bill. That was pretty interesting. I think he's definitely one of the unsung heroes of the season for so many reasons."
On Sunday, the Packers O-line will go up against a Bucs defense that gave them problems earlier this season. The Packers surrendered a season-high five sacks against the Bucs in a Week 6 defeat, a game where the O-line lost Bakhtiari midway through.
Turner will be tasked with handling Buccaneers defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who led Tampa Bay with 9.5 sacks this season. The matchup will be key in stifling the blitz-happy Bucs, though it would be just another thankless task for the Packers' versatile tackle.
"I've never been a guy to brag or to gloat or to rest on any type of accomplishments or anything like that," Turner said. "The only thing that I am chasing is a victory at the end of that week and championships. That is it. Super Bowls are more important to me and championships and helping this team win games are more important to me than anything else."