Tackles Are Major Underdogs

We have some incredible facts to put into context the challenge facing the unlikely offensive tackle duo of David Bakhtiari and Don Barclay. They'll be put to the test against the Niners' elite defense. "We've got to win a lot of those battles," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.

Aaron Rodgers' message to his young offensive tackles is simple.

"Block those guys, please," Rodgers said on Wednesday.

Games aren't won on paper, they're not won at the draft and they're not won at the Scouting Combine. Nonetheless, the Green Bay Packers' starting offensive tackles are a major question mark, not only for Sunday's season-opening showdown at San Francisco but the season as a whole.

Of the NFL's 32 starting left tackles, 19 were taken in the first round and seven in the second round. Put another way, 81.3 percent of the starting left tackles went in the first two rounds. The Packers are going with fourth-round rookie David Bakhtiari. He's one of just five starting left tackles taken in the fourth round or later.

Of the 32 starting right tackles, eight were taken in the first round and seven in the secondary. That's 46.9 percent of the starters taken in the first two rounds. The Packers are going with Don Barclay, who is one of seven starters who entered the league as undrafted free agents.

Here are some other remarkable facts to put context into who the Packers are using in lieu of Bryan Bulaga and Derek Sherrod:

— Of the six rookies starting at tackle, five are at right tackle and Bakhtiari is the only left tackle. He'll face a gauntlet of the NFL's top pass rushers on practically a weekly basis, starting with Aldon Smith on Sunday. Smith had 19.5 sacks last season.

"It's a tough test, but that's what you want," Rodgers said. "If you want to be considered an elite player at your position, like I know David does down the road, then these are the kind of matchups you want."

— Of the six rookie starters, four were taken in the first round, with Bakhtiari in the fourth and Chicago right tackle Jordan Mills in the fifth.

— The Packers have the least-experienced tackle tandem in the league, with Barclay in his second season and Bakhtiari a rookie. In fact, the Packers are just one of three teams in which both of their starting tackles entered the league in 2010 or later. Pittsburgh has left tackle Mike Adams (second round, 2012) and right tackle Marcus Gilbert (second round, 2011) and Detroit has left tackle Riley Reiff (first round, 2012) and Jason Fox (fourth round, 2010).

— Only Tampa Bay's starting tackles come from more humble roots than Green Bay's tandem of fourth round and undrafted. Both of the Bucs' tackles entered the league as undrafted rookies, with left tackle Donald Penn and right tackle Demar Dotson. Penn, however, has started 92 consecutive games, made the Pro Bowl in 2010 and is one of the better left tackles in the league. Dotson performed well in 15 starts in 2012.

"You factor in a number of things," offensive coordinator Tom Clements said of game-planning with two inexperienced tackles. "You factor in matchups throughout your offensive unit, see how you match up defensively, see what you think you can do. Factoring in the left tackle and right tackle is one of many factors."

Rodgers said he's going to play his game and trust Bakhtiari and Barclay to do their job.

"I don't think you want to play like that," Rodgers said of a quicker internal clock. "I think you want to have confidence in those guys. Tackles block ends, that's what we always say. In this case, tackles block outside linebackers. That's two tough guys. I mean, Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith are two of the best in the league, and as a pair, present a tough challenge, but we expect those guys to get out there and block them up. We've got to win a lot of those battles."

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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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