GREEN BAY – David Bakhtiari had his flight all booked. The Green Bay Packers rookie tackle had a commercial airline ticket through the team, one that would have taken him from Southern California to Green Bay – not direct, of course – for his first NFL training camp.
Then the guy he’d been working out with the past few weeks -- linebacker Clay Matthews -- offered an alternative.
“He had gotten (the private jet) and he was nice enough to offer me a ride instead of riding by himself,” said Bakhtiari, who’d posted a photo from his flight on his Twitter account. “It was very nice of him.”
Well, Bakhtiari had better make sure his seat belt is securely fastened, because he’s starting an ascent on the Packers’ offensive line depth chart, too.
After Bakhtiari impressed the coaches with three consecutive standout practices in pads, Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday that he’s earned himself more opportunities. So when Bakhtiari reports for practice on Thursday morning, he can plan on his snaps going up.
“I think David’s off to an excellent start, as far as the reps with the way we’re utilizing him. I think he’s someone who is worthy of more reps in furthering the competition along the offensive line,” McCarthy said. “He’s clearly one of the guys that has made a step in the padded work. So I’m very pleased with what he’s done so far.”
To this point, Bakhtiari has been working at left tackle with the No. 2 offensive line behind Bryan Bulaga, and working with the No. 3 offensive line at right tackle behind Marshall Newhouse and Don Barclay. Although Newhouse has taken most of the snaps with the starters for most of camp, Barclay, who is also working as a backup center, was at right tackle for the final no-huddle 11-on-11 period of practice Wednesday.
Now, it appears Bakhtiari has injected himself into the competition, much like Josh Sitton did at right guard as a fourth-round pick in 2008. After a strong start in his first camp, Sitton was starting by the third preseason game, and had he not suffered a knee injury, he likely would have been the team’s opening day starter this year.
That’s a lot further down the line than Bakhtiari was ready to think on Wednesday afternoon, but he was certainly excited about the increased opportunities – wherever they come.
“If they give me the opportunity, I would love to,” Bakhtiari said. “Like I said when the pads came on, ‘I’m going to do what I know how to do, and that’s play football. And then whatever the coaches think and where they want to put me, that’s completely on them.’ I just know all I control in this is how I play football and how I block a player.”
A fourth-round pick from Colorado, the 6-foot-4, 300-pound Bakhtiari was the Buffaloes’ starting right tackle as a redshirt freshman, then transitioned to left tackle for his final two seasons in Boulder before declaring for the draft after his junior season last year. He fell to the 109 th overall pick, the same pick where the Packers got another starting lineman – guard T.J. Lang in 2009.
“I think he’s catching on quick,” Lang said of Bakhtiari Wednesday. “He’s a guy who doesn’t make a lot of mental errors, which is one of the things that you look for, that he knows what he’s doing. He’s just a guy that goes out there and battles. He’s asked to do a lot right now with switching from right tackle to left tackle – that’s a lot to know as a rookie. But I think he’s making improvements, and definitely a good addition to our room.”
Because of the line reshuffling, Lang would be the one lining up next to the rookie if he won the right tackle job. Although Bakhtiari was enjoying the media attention created by McCarthy’s comment Wednesday, he wasn’t getting ahead of himself.
“It does feel great, and having all you guys here, that’s nice,” he said at his locker. “But as I’ve been saying, I want to keep a level head. It’s been what, three days in pads? Yeah, I’ve had some bright shining moments, but I definitely haven’t been perfect. I’ve had some downright in my mind god-awful plays that I wish I could have back.
“It’s a good foundation for me to build upon and hopefully if I can continue improving and getting better, then we can come back and talk about (how) this has been a really good thing that’s helped me. I’m doing good, but I’ve still got a long ways to go.”
One reason Bakhtiari has been able to get off to a fast start has been his familiarity with the NFL world. His older brother Eric, a journeyman linebacker who has spent time with seven NFL teams, started indoctrinating him during David’s senior year in high school, and one of Eric’s best friends has also helped in the process: Matthews.
“They knew each other, and then once I got drafted by the Packers, we started hanging out a lot more,” Bakhtiari said of Matthews, who not only worked out with him in California but let Bakhtiari crash at his house after being drafted. “I even told him, I said, ‘You made the transition a lot easier coming in.’ So it’s been a lot easier transition than it could have been.”
But it’s been Bakhtiari who’s made the transition on the field. While he says left tackle still feels more comfortable to him because of the time he spent there in college, he’s ready to join the competition on the right.
“I thought I was taking a lot of reps, so the more the merrier I guess,” he said. “Right now, they have me second-string left and third-string right. We’ll see (what happens). I haven’t met with any coaches, so I don’t know.”
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.