Packers living on the edge
Coaches impressed by young linemen
GREEN BAY, Wis. — The night before his National Football League regular-season debut, David Bakhtiari stood in the lounge area of the Westin San Francisco Airport with one tape measure wrapped around his chest and another checking his inseam. The kid might’ve been nervous about his first game that actually counted in the standings, but last Saturday night, he just wanted to order some new threads.
“Just entering the NFL, I don’t really have suits,” Bakhtiari explained earlier this week. “And Green Bay is kind of hard to get to.”
What Bakhtiari, who said his mom and dad’s house is about 8 minutes from SFO airport and 20 minutes from Candlestick Park, might have been lacking sartorially, he made up for the next day, when he was solid in his debut in the Packers’ loss to his hometown San Francisco 49ers.
Now, he and right tackle Don Barclay must build on their opening performances with another challenging matchup with Washington Redskins outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan. Orakpo, who missed most of last season with a torn chest muscle, has 29.5 career sacks in 50 career games since entering the league as the No. 13 overall pick out of Texas in 2009. Kerrigan, who is now in his third season after being taken with the No. 16 overall pick out of Purdue in 2011, has 17 sacks in 33 career games and had seven tackles and forced a fumble last week against Philadelphia.
“It’s going to be another test. I don’t think there’s going to be a week that isn’t,” Bakhtiari said this week as he prepped for the Redskins. “I think (the 49ers game) is a tone-setter for the year for me, where I’m going to be at. Not to mention, that’s arguably the best duo (Aldon Smith and Justin Smith) I’m going to go against all year. To be able to go in there and play well is very positive.
“It wasn’t perfect, but for what I wanted to do, after watching film, I came out happy with it. Not perfect, but I was happy.”
The Packers coaching staff was, too – both head coach Mike McCarthy, who said he “was impressed” with Bakhtiari and said he “did a lot of good things,” and offensive line coach James Campen, who said both Bakhtiari and Barclay “did a good job.”
What’s remarkable is, if you look around the NFL, you won’t find a younger tandem of starting offensive tackles than the Packers’ combination of the 21-year-old Bakhtiari, a rookie fourth-round pick from Colorado, and the 24-year-old Barclay, who made the team as an undrafted rookie free agent from West Virginia last year and started six games (including playoffs) at right tackle late in the year.
And no NFL tackle combination comes from more humble NFL beginnings, either.
No duo who started at tackle in Week 1 was less experienced than Barclay and Bakhtiari. In fact, the Packers are just one of three teams to have both of their starting tackles enter the league in the last three years. Pittsburgh started left tackle Mike Adams (second round, 2012) and right tackle Marcus Gilbert (second round, 2011) last week, while Detroit started left tackle Riley Reiff (first round, 2012) and Jason Fox (fourth round, 2010).
Bakhtiari was one of seven rookie tackles to start last week, along with Kansas City’s Eric Fisher (No. 1 overall), Jacksonville’s Luke Joeckel (No. 2), Philadelphia’s Lane Johnson (No. 4), San Diego’s D.J. Fluker (No. 11), the New York Giants’ Justin Pugh (No. 19 overall), Bakhtiari and Chicago’s Jordan Mills, a fifth-round pick. Bakhtiari was the 10th offensive tackle drafted, Mills was the 14th.
Bakhtiari, who took over as the starting left tackle after veteran Bryan Bulaga was lost for the year to a knee injured suffered in the Aug. 3 Family Night Scrimmage, had been oddly calm throughout preseason play but admitted his nerves got the best of him.
“I was more nervous than I’d been and it was mostly my fault. I got myself a little too geeked up, so I had to calm myself down,” Bakhtiari admitted. “But once I got in there, I felt really comfortable and calm, which is how I’d been playing. That’s kind of been my theme.
“I was trying to get that little extra energy in me, I was telling people, ‘It’s game day!’ First game of the season, the Niners, hometown – and then as I was doing that, I had done it in college and certainly in high school, I was like, ‘Wait, what am I doing? This is now how I’ve been playing and I’ve been playing well.’ I was, ‘Just relax, play another song.'”
According to Pro Football Focus, Bakhtiari was charged with two sacks and two quarterback hurries in 63 snaps against the 49ers, including a sack on the second play of the game when he tried to cut Aldon Smith and missed him, leading to an 8-yard loss. Barclay was charged with one quarterback hit and two hurries in 63 snaps.
“Didn’t notice them that much, so that was good,” offensive coordinator Tom Clements said. “They both played well. They got after it and they were playing against excellent players and they moved their front four around at times to get different defenders on them and they reacted well.”
Asked if he and McCarthy had to alter their offensive game plan because of Bakhtiari and Barclay’s inexperience, Clements replied: “We like to utilize the quick passes in general, regardless of who we’re playing against. We utilize that, we utilize some action passes. At times we gave some extra help to the tackles, at times we didn’t. We varied it and tried to give them different looks that they had to react to.”
Meanwhile, the Packers are in the distinct minority with the draft pedigrees of their tackles, even though the team used its 2010 first-round pick on Bulaga and its 2011 first-round pick on a still-injured Derek Sherrod.
Of the NFL’s 32 starting left tackles, 19 were taken in the first round and seven in the second round. Bakhtiari is one of just five starting left tackles taken in the fourth round or later.
Of the NFL’s 32 starting right tackles, eight were taken in the first round and seven in the second. Barclay is one of seven starters who entered the league as an undrafted free agent.
Only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with undrafted left tackle Donald Penn and undrafted right tackle Demar Dotson, have starters with lesser combined pedigrees.
That doesn’t matter now, of course. Now, it’s simply about doing the job, which Bakhtiari and Barclay did and must continue to do.
“I thought it went good for the most part, keeping our guys off Aaron. We did a lot of quick passes; the goal was to keep the outside linebackers off him. They’re good players,” Barclay said. “You can take that and say we improved from our last test, but it comes down to a team thing and as a whole offensive line and a whole offense. We win together and we lose together. At the end of the day, we lost, and we have to improve for next week.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.