6 Days ’Til Camp: Bakhtiari Beats Odds

Every day until the start of camp on July 26, we’ll provide one juicy nugget to whet your appetite for the return of football. We’d give you more but the CBA forbids two-a-days. Sorry. How rare is it to find a starting left tackle in the fourth round (much less a really good one)?

Left tackle is a lot like quarterback.

If you want a good one, you better get him in the first round.

Of the 32 projected starting quarterbacks for this season, based on depth charts at Ourlads.com, 18 of them entered the league in the first round.

It’s the same at left tackle, with 18-of-32 projected starters entering the league in the first round.

The Packers’ David Bakhtiari beat the odds on a couple of fronts last year. Not only was he drafted in the fourth round — the ninth offensive tackle selected — but he was the only rookie starting left tackle.

“I would say it definitely gave me a chip on my shoulder,” said Bakhtiari, a junior entry from Colorado last year. “I was confident with where I was going to go. I’m just happy that I’m here and I’m in this environment. I’m with a good team and the dominos fell the way they fell and I was fortunate enough to be in the right position at the right time. I can only be happy that I’m here right now.”

Bakhtiari exceeded expectations. He spent the offseason and start of training camp battling Marshall Newhouse and Don Barclay to start at right tackle. When Bryan Bulaga tore his ACL on Family Night, coach Mike McCarthy went with the rookie instead of Newhouse, who had started for most of 2011 and all of 2012.

“I had a great rookie year. That’s how I look at it. I had a great rookie year (but) I had an OK year as a player,” Bakhtiari said. “But I don’t have that tag this year. I want people to be like, ‘He had a good year as a football player.’ Not rookie, not second-year, any of that. Throw all that out. He was a good player. He’s a guy we want on our team. I want the organization to want me here — want me at left tackle. Not just, ‘Oh, he’s here.’”

Bakhtiari started 16 games and allowed 7.5 sacks, according to STATS. Compare that to the 10 sacks allowed by Newhouse in 2012 and 11.5 sacks in 2011. He also was an enormous upgrade over Newhouse in the run game. According to the league’s stats site, the Packers averaged a ninth-ranked 5.63 yards per carry around left end, a second-ranked 5.85 yards per carry off left tackle and a third-ranked 5.58 yards per carry behind left guard. In 2012, the averages were a 26th-ranked 4.49 yards per carry around left end, a 32nd-ranked 2.34 yards per carry off left tackle and a 15th-ranked 3.89 yards per carry behind left guard.

Of course, it’s simplistic to point to Bakhtiari replacing Newhouse as the reason for the enormous improvement. It helps that All-Pro guard Josh Sitton moved to the left side, and second-round pick Eddie Lacy gave the running game a huge spark. Bakhtiari acknowledged as much when asked to pinpoint an area in need of improvement.

“For sure, run blocking,” Bakhtiari said. “I’d love to be a dominant run blocker, but I also like to keep Aaron (Rodgers) clean, so if I had to choose one that I think I need more improvement on, I think run blocking would be the one. But I want to improve on both. I’m not just going to focus on one and think the other one is there. By no means is my pass pro there.”

To take the next step in his career, Bakhtiari hit the weight room with a vengeance. Offensive line coach James Campen said Bakhtiari put on “7, 8, 9 pounds of solid muscle.” That added strength not only will help him in the run game but to defeat bull rushers in the passing game.

“I’m very critical of myself because my thought is the day I become complacent and think you’re there is the day I’ll get fired and I’ll be out of a job,” Bakhtiari said. “Me and my buddy back in college, we have the slogan of, ‘You can always get better, you can always try harder.’ You can give it everything you’ve got but there’s always more in the tank. For me to say it was fantastic and it was the best year, no. I think I could have even done better, just as a rookie. Overall, it was a good year for a rookie.”

NFL Draft: Starting Left Tackles

First round: Branden Albert, MIA; Nate Solder, NE; D’Brickashaw Ferguson, NYJ; Eugene Monroe, JAX; Joe Thomas, CLE; Duane Brown, HOU; Anthony Castonzo, IND; Luke Joeckel, JAX; Ryan Clady, DEN; Eric Fisher, KC; Tyron Smith, DAL; Trent Williams, WASH; Riley Reiff, DET; Matt Kalil, MIN; Sam Baker, ATL; Joe Staley, SF; Russell Okung, SEA; Jake Long, STL.

Second round: Andrew Whitworth, CIN; Michael Roos, TEN; Will Beatty, NYG.

Third round: Jared Veldheer, AZ; Terron Armstead, NO.

Fourth round: David Bakhtiari, GB; Anthony Collins, TB; Jermon Bushrod, CHI; Chris Hairston, BUF.

Seventh round: Kelvin Beachum PIT; King Dunlap, SD.

Undrafted: Nate Chandler, BUF; Donald Penn, OAK; Jason Peters, PHI.

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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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