The Green Bay Packers play their first preseason game tomorrow evening at Lambeau Field, as they will host the Arizona Cardinals. The majority of eyes will not be on the Packers new pair of rookie running backs or their physically gifted and speedy rookie defensive end. Most of the focus will be on their rookie offensive tackle, David Bakhtiari, a fourth round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Bakhtiari, who will turn 22 in September, is the likely heir apparent to Bryan Bulaga at left tackle for the Packers. Bulaga will undergo knee surgery after he tore his ACL in the team’s scrimmage on Saturday night.
Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews had nothing but praise for the rookie tackle on Thursday. “I’m impressed with his ability to be a true professional at such a young age," Matthews said. “His tools are fantastic, he has long arms, and he is athletic. I’m excited, and we are really counting on him now."
Countless Packer coaches and players (including Bakhtiari) have admired the confidence shown by the young rookie. “He better have (confidence tomorrow)," Matthews said. “With him at left tackle, he needs to know he is going to get the job done. We aren’t looking at him as a fourth round rookie—we are looking at him as our starting left tackle."
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said he is ready to see how Bakhtiari adjusts to a game-like atmosphere. “He needs to play," McCarthy said. “He needs to learn to play the (left tackle) position at this level and speed, and he needs to see the things he will see in week one."
After numerous player altercations were caught on tape during Packers training camp on Wednesday, Matthews said it is time for the Packers to hit somebody else. “We are all looking forward to it, and we are ready to get after another team."
Matthews is an established NFL star, as he has recorded 42 sacks in his first four seasons, but he said he feels the preseason is still important for veterans. “It’s a good test to see where you are at," Matthews said. “For me, it is to keep sharp at my craft, and I’m looking forward to getting things going."
“I remember my first preseason game going against (current Packers quarterback) Vince Young (and the Tennessee Titans). I was on defense during a 12-play drive and I was gassed. I didn’t think I was going to make it in this league."
Veteran Packers wide receiver James Jones offered a similar perspective regarding the first preseason game. “It’s about getting the kinks out," Jones said. “It’ll be good to get out there in a game, get in a rhythm, and play our style of football."
Coach McCarthy said his goal is to get every player involved in tomorrow’s game versus Arizona. “It is what you put the most stock into when evaluating a player," McCarthy said. “At the end of the day, it is about your game tape."
“I’m excited to see our young (receivers) out there, especially with our type of offense," Jones said. “I think they’ll have some success and really show people what they can do."
McCarthy said he will try to get Young into tomorrow game after the veteran quarterback was signed by the team Monday. “He is playing uphill now," McCarthy said. “It is the mental transition he is currently going through, and we need to get him comfortable so he can go play."
Young said he feels he will be ready for whatever challenges are brought upon him tomorrow night. “We will see what happens, that is what preseason is all about," Young said. “My job is to go out and lead the guys and get guys in the right area."
McCarthy also said he plans to alternate kickers Giorgio Tavecchio and Mason Crosby during tomorrow’s game, and keep the kicking competition “as balanced as possible."
The Packers are a traditionally young football team, and Matthews understands there will be plenty to learn from after Friday’s first game. “There will be mistakes, but that is why we have preseason games."
For the Cardinals, in the offseason, they hired reigning NFL Coach of the Year Bruce Arians, after Arians helped lead the Indianapolis Colts to a wild-card playoff berth on an interim-head coaching basis while current Colts head coach Chuck Pagano was undergoing treatment for leukemia.
Arians’ Colts defeated the Packers in week five of the 2012 regular season, 30-27, in Indianapolis, and Matthews said tomorrow’s game should be a good test. “I know we fell short against Indianapolis last year, but I think we have a good idea at what they will throw at us."
“Bruce Arians has been around for a long time," McCarthy said, referring to Arians’ previous time with the Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers. “The way he approaches offenses won’t change in Arizona. This will be a challenge for our football team, and anytime you play a new coaching staff, it is always a challenge."
Despite Bulaga’s season-ending injury and wide receiver Jordy Nelson’s recent knee surgery, Jones said players shouldn’t worry about getting injured. “I don’t have any concerns, no," Jones said. “I try not to think about it and I just go out and play football. If you go out there thinking about it, you will probably be the next guy hurt."
Other related news: McCarthy said offensive guard T.J. Lang (back), running back Eddie Lacy (hamstring), offensive tackle Andrew Datko (concussion), offensive lineman Lane Taylor (personal reasons), and wide receivers Charles Johnson and Kevin Dorsey (unknown) did not practice Thursday. Wide receiver Randall Cobb (bicep) was limited in Thursday’s practice.
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