This is the second of three installments of Rookie Watch, looking at three newcomers who will play a major role for the Green Bay Packers in their season opener on Sunday at San Francisco.
Next to Bakhtiari, the rookie fourth-round draft pick from Colorado, right tackle Don Barclay, with all of four career regular-season starts, looks like a grizzled veteran.
So when quarterback Aaron Rodgers was asked this week what he will say to his young offensive tackles before Sunday’s game against the 49ers, Rodgers kept it simple.
“Block those guys, please,” Rodgers said.
For Bakhtiari, that likely means a matchup against outside linebacker Aldon Smith, who finished second in the NFL last season with 19½ sacks.
“David is a very confident guy, who has a good set, and you just need to trust his fundamentals,” Rodgers said. “He’s up against a Pro Bowl guy who’s one of the best in the business, who is continuing to get better.
“If you want to be considered an elite player at your position, like I know David does down the road, he’s a confident guy, then these are the kind of matchups you want.”
From the beginning, the Packers liked Bakhtiari’s athleticism and intelligence, but they didn’t expect him to be their starting left tackle. That job was supposed to belong to Bryan Bulaga, who moved over from the right side this offseason, until Bulaga blew out his knee in an Aug. 3 scrimmage. At best, the Packers had hoped Bakhtiari might work his way into the competition at right tackle, where the second-year pro Barclay was battling veteran Marshall Newhouse.
But the Packers immediately turned to Bakhtiari following Bulaga’s injury, and he quickly eased their concerns. Though he allowed one sack in the preseason, he honed his pass blocking during training camp by often going head-to-head with Clay Matthews during the one-on-one drills. Matthews did not win a single rep against Bakhtiari during the practice drill.
“He’s shown he can block good players,” Packers left guard Josh Sitton said. “He’s done a good job against Clay. He seems very confident in himself. He just doesn’t let moments get too big for him. He’s a pretty level-headed guy. I’ve got confidence in him.”
Of all the Packers’ rookies, there’s perhaps none with a more important job than Bakhtiari. He’s entrusted with protecting the blindside of the quarterback who this offseason signed a $110 million contract extension.
“I try not to think about that,” Bakhtiari said. “I just try to think about my job and what I have to do and try to perform at the highest level I can and to the best of my ability.