Santa Clara, CA – In the midst of a perfect 70-degree Bay Area summer, the San Francisco 49ers have completed another day of training camp. One less day until the start of the season, and one less day until August 31st – the day where teams have to cut down to 53 man rosters.
The players slowly amble off the field; some go straight to the locker room, and others – like Alex Smith – stop to sign autographs for fans. In the back of my mind, I know that some of these guys won’t be here in a few weeks time.
Squatting next to me looking out onto the practice field is Kyle, a beat reporter from CBS. “What are you waiting for?” I ask.
“Eric Bakhtiari,” Kyle simply says.
Bakhtiari, a linebacker who was an undrafted free agent in 2008 and has spent the last 4 years on the practice squads of 7 different teams, is apparently still doing drills on the field. At the time, I didn’t know this.
“Ok,” I reply, trying to hide the fact that I have no idea who this guy is. Don’t you just want to talk to Michael Crabtree? He just walked by you know, is what I think to myself. But then I remember that Kyle told me he attends practice every day, so maybe he’s just finding a new story or something. Everybody has their method, I conclude, and wrap up a thoroughly enjoyable day at camp.
49ers/Texans preseason game – a few days later
It’s the 3rd quarter, and I’m watching the game at my cousin’s house. Both teams are well into their depth charts, and I’m noticing something – the same dude Kyle was talking about, Eric Bakhtiari, is getting a lot of playing time. How do I know this? Because every 5 seconds, there’s a shot of him doing something. And not only that, the commentators keep saying Bakhtiari this, and Bakhtiari that.
San Diego, San Francisco, Tampa Bay, Tennessee, back to San Francisco, then on to Miami Kansas City, Cleveland, again to Kansas City, and finally back to San Francisco again.
Yes, that is an impressive itinerary for a summer vacation, but for Bakhtiari, his journey through the NFL over the last 4 years has been anything but. His only real game experience came in the tail end of the ’09 season with the Titans. He played in 3 games and registered 6 tackles… on special teams. The rest of his time was spent on practice squads, where he kept getting cut after a few months and in some instances, a few weeks.
It’s been rough.
But, like the old clichés will tell you, no one starts at the top. When you fall, get up and try again, Jeremy Lin did it, you can too!, etc. Ok, maybe I made up that last one, but the fact is that teams keep giving Bakhtiari a chance. And according to the law of averages, he’s bound to hit it big soon.
He must be tired of it himself too. This past offseason, he even changed his workout routine because clearly, it wasn’t working.
“The definition of insanity is doing something over and over and expecting different results,” he said. “I wanted to change it up.”
While he was living in LA, he started training with Packers all star linebacker and discount double check enthusiast Clay Matthews. The two were connected by a mutual friend and hit it off. So far, it seems that his work is paying dividends. In two preseason games, he’s notched a team-leading 11 tackles and 2 sacks.
Currently, the 49ers have 3 outside linebackers with NFL experience: Aldon Smith, Ahmad Brooks, and Parys Haralson. So being an outside linebacker, it isn’t out of the realm of reality that Bakhtiari might finally find a home in San Francisco.
I think this year he has a little extra incentive to stay. Bakhtiari attended the University of San Diego, where his coach was none other than… drum roll please…
“He’s the greatest coach I’ve ever played for and that will probably remain true until my dying day,” he said of Harbaugh.
But in any case, Bakhtiari is going all in with his commitment to the team. “I do know if I do make this team it’s because I earned it. And I know that if I don’t make this team it’s because someone else outperformed me. That’s the best thing about coming here. I’ll know, 100 percent, one way or the other.
Oh, here’s a little more incentive for Eric: the 49ers play Matthews and the Packers Week 1.
Right on, Kyle. Thanks man.
By Giovanni Galindo
Follow Giovanni Galindo on Twitter: @giogalindo