Following the Packers' preseason-opening loss to the Arizona Cardinals, rookie offensive lineman David Bakhtiari was put in a difficult position.
His team had just been shutout 17-0 and, truth be told, played rather poorly. But the Packers' new left tackle was a breath of fresh air.
There's little more Bakhtiari could have done in his professional debut in a game environment, but he had to play the role of good soldier and toe the company line.
"There's a difference between being cocky and being confident," said Bakhtiari on Friday evening following the game. "So I just take the game as a confidence booster and know that there's room to improve and definitely not say that 'I'm there,' because I hope to never say 'I'm there.' There's always something more I can do. I'll come in tomorrow and see what I need to work on and improve on."
When Bryan Bulaga was lost for the season in a knee injury sustained in the team's intra-squad scrimmage a week ago, they gave the first-year player out of Colorado the first crack at replacing him.
It showed a lot of trust to be giving an inexperienced a mid-round draft choice the responsibility of protecting the backside of the highest-paid player in the NFL, but in one game, Bakhtiari looked the part.
"I didn't get touched tonight," said Rodgers. "We had a few dropbacks, I think five attempts. I'm sure he was pretty good over there. It's good when you're not worried about him, and tonight I wasn't worried about him. He's a confident kid. I think he's got a bright future for us. For him it's about experience and going against good pass rushers, and next week will be a good challenge with those guys down in St. Louis."
No doubt about it, Bakhtari can't be penciled for All-Rookie honors after just one exhibition game, but he passed his first test with flying colors.
If there was anything to nitpick about the left tackle's performance, it's that he's still a work-in-progress as a run blocker. He's incredibly athletic and can get to the second level of the defense even better than Marshall Newhouse––who's best qualities include his nimble feet––but Bakhtiari had trouble sustaining blocks in the ground game.
Such was the case on the third play from scrimmage when defensive end Matt Shaughnessy bounced off a block by Bakhtiari and chipped in on a tackle of James Starks on a run off left tackle.
But the reality of the situation is that left tackles, especially in prolific passing offense like Green Bay's, make their money pass blocking.
And despite the uneven performance of the Packers offense outside of the first drive of the game in which the first-string drove for 86 yards, Bakhtiari kept Rodgers and backup Graham Harrell off the turf.
"Today we felt good," said Bakhtiari. "(The defense) didn't call anything, they didn't show anything that was alarming where I was like, 'Josh (Sitton), what are we doing? What are we doing?' Everything felt pretty good. It felt pretty slow. It was a nice, smooth transition ... so I didn't feel too many jitters or brain farts."
Among the most impressive aspects of Bakhtiari's performance was his ability to play out on an island, kicking and sliding in pass protection like a seasoned pro.
Not a single time did a running back or a tight end have to chip in to assist the rookie. On several occasions running backs were deployed to help in pass blocking, but never did Bakhtiari need their aid.
Over the course of the evening, Bakhtiari went up against the likes of Calais Campbell, Lorenzo Alexander and Ronald Talley of the Cardinals, and the young offensive lineman pitched a shutout of his own.
Bakhtiari played the entire first half of the game, but didn't see the field in the second half. While he's aware he got off to a good start, he also knows there are bigger and longer tests that lie ahead.
"I went out there with a purpose," said Bakhtiari. "I've been getting a lot of media attention lately with the buzz of me moving up and battling with Marshall on the right side and then now with the tragic event with Bulaga and now with this whole, me starting at left tackle ... it comes with great responsibility.
"So I went out there with something more to prove, because you can do stuff in practice, and I can tell you guys whatever you guys want to hear. But at the end of the day, it's what's out there that's the most important thing that I'm going to be judged on, not only by my peers, by the fans, but by my coaches and the organization in and of itself. It was good, I was happy, but I need to know that I have to move on. It was a great first game, but I'm on the second game. I got to start preparing, getting ready, and I have to go prove myself for that."
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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