By Jim Owczarski
Special contribution from OnMilwaukee.com.
GREEN BAY – David Bakhtiari was 15 days shy of his 11th birthday when Julius Peppers made his NFL debut for the Carolina Panthers on Sept. 15, 2002; an incredible “welcome to the league” performance against Detroit in which the No. 2 overall pick out of North Carolina sacked Lions quarterback Mike McMahon three times and forced a fumble.
Now 22, Bakhtiari is the Green Bay Packers rookie left tackle and will now go head-to-head on Monday night with the defensive end he once looked up to.
“He is one of the few to come around,” Bakhtiari said. “I heard about him and I loved him back when he was at Carolina when I was young and no idea when I was going to be in the NFL, and now I get to go against him. It’s going to be a lot of fun but I know I have my hands full. He’s a phenomenal player. He’s a giant, enormous, freak.”
The fourth round pick out of Colorado has been building a personal encyclopedia of pass rushers, learning from them, studying and comparing the likes of San Francisco’s Aldon Smith, Washington’s Ryan Kerrigan, Baltimore’s Terrell Suggs and Minnesota’s Jared Allen.
It matters little that Peppers is not the player he was even a year ago, having recorded just one sack through seven games – for Bakhtiari, the 33-year-old Bears defensive end is in a class by himself.
“I think he’s got his own book,” Bakhtiari said. “He mixes in being a veteran player with the size and the speed with the strength. I mean, it’s just going to be a great test. I’m going to have to put all my books together for this guy.”
After being thrust into the starting lineup just before the start of the regular season due to Bryan Bulaga’s blown knee, Bakhtiari has been impressive protecting Aaron Rodgers’ blind side.
The 6-foot, 4-inch, 299 pounder has helped anchor a line that is tied for 11th in the league with 17 sacks allowed in seven games.
Two of those sacks came on the road in week 1 when Bakhtiari was beaten twice by Smith. Fast forward to last week, and Bakhtiari shut out Allen.
The one person unimpressed was Bakhtiari.
“I pretty much let you guys feel good about it,” he said to the media. “I didn’t even know about it until after the game, I think some reporter brought it up to me after the game and I was like, OK, cool. It felt good for a couple house, but then it’s OK, you’re only as good as your last game, you’re only as good as your last play, so I’ve got to come out and do it again. I’ve got to do good – every week I’ve got to do good. That’s my mind set.”