Bakhtiari Faces Verbal, Physical Challenges

Can rookie fourth-round pick David Bakhtiari play left tackle? A scout said his team overwhelmingly said no. Bakhtiari, who will be making his NFL debut on Sunday in front of friends and family, will face an enormous challenge against All-Pro Aldon Smith.

David Bakhtiari is 21 going on 31.

Bakhtiari, the Green Bay Packers' left tackle, faces the type of challenge that might leave some rookies shaking in their shoes.

The native of San Mateo, Calif., will make his NFL debut in front of about 30 friends and family at San Francisco.

The game will be against the defending NFC champions.

He'll be squaring off against reigning sacks king Aldon Smith.

"No, I don't expect that," Campen said about Bakhtiari battling a debilitating case of the rookie jitters. "I think he's just a steady guy that will go out there (and do his job). He'll have some challenging moments but the thing about that is he gets out of that and moves onto the next play. That's the most important thing for him to do. He'll be challenged. Obviously, that's a great football player that he's going against. He'll see something a little bit different but it's our job to make sure he sees everything. We've been working on what we have on tape and what we expect. I expect him to play well."

If he plays well on Sunday and beyond, he'd defy the scouting community. In his three seasons at Colorado, Bakhtiari started at right tackle as a redshirt freshman and was second-team all-conference at left tackle the following two seasons.

Nonetheless, the early entrant wasn't considered a top prospect because scouts didn't think he had the skill to play left tackle. Even his college coach told Packer Report after the draft that Bakhtiari's best spot might be guard or center.

"We had five guys break him down and nobody said he was a left tackle," a scout told Packer Report earlier in the week. "Most felt like he was a guard but some said he had the position flexibility to play right tackle in a pinch. He can function at right tackle. He's a really smart kid so I thought you could cross-train him to play guard and center. The big thing is, he's competitive. You better pack a lunch when you go against him, so you like that. The moment isn't going to be too big for him. He will give his best effort every night."

At 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds, Bakhtiari hardly is a small man. Of the 27 players listed as offensive tackles at the Scouting Combine, however, Bakhtiari was tied for the shortest.

"His biggest weakness is his ability to block straight speed," the scout said, pointing to a potential red flag against Aldon Smith. "When he faces someone like that, it's not going to turn out great. He's a good athlete, he's strong enough, he tries hard. The problem is, it's the biggest matchup disparity on the field. You have wide receivers against cornerbacks, running backs against linebackers, defensive tackles against guards. Those are the same body types and skill-sets. Now, what happens against a Clay Matthews or an Aldon Smith or a Julius Peppers or a DeMarcus Ware? Those guys are great athletes and freaks. When you put those guys up against a 310-pound offensive lineman, it's the biggest disparity from a matchup standpoint. That's why it's such a premium position."

Premium, indeed. Of the 32 starting left tackles, 19 were taken in the first round and seven were selected in the second. If Bryan Bulaga hadn't torn his ACL, 20 starting left tackles would have been first-round choices.

Bakhtiari has impressed offensive line coach James Campen with his maturity and poise. At every turn, Bakhtiari has impressed. He allowed one sack during the preseason but otherwise was flawless. He showed some push and tenacity in the run game. He's been assignment-sure — no small feat considering how much of the offense is run at the line of scrimmage.

"He's a lot like Bryan – real cerebral.," Campen said. "It's a testament to him because he studies, he works. He's a guy that asks questions. He'll always pick the brain of the guy next to him. The thing is, he's taking the fundamentals (and implementing them). When you're young, you come in and think you have 20, 25 different things that I can do to this person. In reality, you only have four or five. So, he's shrinking that list and being able to apply those to specific plays, which is making his performance better."

He'll have to be at his best on Sunday. While Bakhtiari had plenty of success against Matthews at training camp, he lined up across from Matthews only sporadically. Against All-Pro linebacker Smith and All-Pro defensive end Justin Smith, Bakhtiari will have to hold firm for 60 or 70 plays.

One reason why the Smiths are so good is because they play so well in tandem. A bread-and-butter stunt for them has Justin Smith going outside and Aldon Smith crashing inside. That will be a major test for Bakhtiari and left guard Josh Sitton, who don't have hundreds upon hundreds of game reps together.

"Our comfort level is good but it's not where it needs to be," Bakhtiari said. "We're not there yet but we're definitely on the right track. We're getting a lot better together. We know what they do, we know their tendencies. We're trying to emulate it and work on it at practice as much as we can so we can control it in the game."

Bakhtiari knows the emotions will be running high on Sunday. His mom will be throwing a pregame party for about 30 friends and family members. Some of his friends — born-and-bred 49ers fans — have bought Bakhtiari jerseys.

This is Bakhtiari's dream, having seen his older brother, Eric, reach the NFL. The time is now. There's no room for growing pains, not with Aaron Rodgers' health at stake.

"I'm confident where I am, but by no stretch am I at a place where I can be complacent and with where I am," Bakhtiari said. "I know there's a big hill I have to go up. This is just the beginning. But I'm happy with where I'm at right now."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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