Chess Match Continues for Rookie Bakhtiari

At first, the challenge for David Bakhtiari was learning the strengths, weaknesses and tendencies of the NFL's elite pass rushers. The past two games, it was about adjusting for second matchups against Jared Allen and Ziggy Ansah. On Sunday, he'll face Osi Umenyiora.

The consensus among scouts was that David Bakhtiari wasn't a legit NFL left tackle.

That's why, in a league in which 19 of the starting left tackles were drafted in the first round and 26 of the starters were taken in the first two rounds, Bakhtiari lasted until the fourth round.

Those scouts were wrong. He is the only rookie starting at left tackle.

"Yeah, it's cool. It's unique, so to speak," Bakhtiari said on Wednesday.

Bakhtiari has exceeded almost everyone's expectations. Except his. Based on the film review of ProFootballFocus.com, Bakhtiari went seven consecutive games without allowing a sack until giving up three in the Thanksgiving massacre at Detroit.

"Do what I've been doing. Don't stray from the norm and don't overthink anything," Bakhtiari said of his mind-set with Sunday's game against Atlanta approaching. "It's one game. I definitely had a tough outing but I'm not going to reinvent the wheel."

It's been a case of learning on the fly for most of the season. There is never an easy week for a left tackle. He's played Hall of Fame-caliber veterans like Terrell Suggs, Jared Allen, Julius Peppers and Jason Pierre-Paul. He's faced young stars like Brian Orakpo, Michael Johnson and Ziggy Ansah.

For Bakhtiari, it's been all about "building his encyclopedia" of strengths and weaknesses, styles and tendencies, of those stud pass rushers. Against Minnesota and Detroit, the challenge was different as he got his second look at Allen and Ansah.

"It's good to get my second bearing," he said. "Now, I feel like I'm getting to know my division rivals because we're going to be going against them all the time. Whether Allen stays or not, I don't know, but when I see Peppers again — and I know obviously Peppers and Ziggy are going to be on their teams because they're under contract — it'll be good to see them and understand them through the rest of the year and their upcoming years."

Bakhtiari held Allen completely off the stat sheet when the teams played at Minnesota in Week 8. In their Week 12 matchup, Allen had five tackles, including one for a loss, and one quarterback hit. Bakhtiari limited Ansah to two tackles and one-half sack when Green Bay hosted Detroit in Week 4. In their Week 13 matchup, Ansah had two sacks among his three tackles, and Devin Taylor also had a sack against Bakhtiari.

"He'll learn from that," offensive line coach James Campen said on Thursday. "He's such a headstrong kid, he wants to be so good, he'll learn from that and move on."

Bakhtiari has compared playing tackle to playing chess in that it's about setting up your opponent. Taking that analogy a step further on Thursday, he said: "Any time you play chess, you kind of figure out somebody's strategy. Then, they're keying off your strategy, so you have to double-check what they do. He knows what I'm going to bring, I know what he's going to bring."

On Sunday, he'll square off against another veteran with a lengthy resume in Atlanta's Osi Umenyiora. Umenyiora has 81.5 sacks in 10 seasons, including 6.5 this year, his first with the Falcons.

Bakhtiari said the "rookie wall" wasn't a factor in his disappointing performance at Detroit. He said he blasted through that wall back in Week 5, when he had "an idiotic" week of practice. Campen, however, said the time off did Bakhtiari some good.

"I think it helps anybody in this business when you're banging that much. You come back fresher," Campen said. "I just think he got out of his fundamental toolbox, things snowballed on him a little bit. Again, that kid, I fully expect him to come back and perform where he wants to perform and where he's expected to perform."


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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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