NFL scouts like to talk about a player’s “motor,” and whether it runs at high speed.
For San Francisco 49ers linebacker Eric Bakhtiari, that motor not only runs fast, but it runs long after many others would have run out of gas.
Bakhtiari has an amazing persistence that he still hopes, at age 27, will lead to an NFL career.
The outside linebacker from San Mateo has been around and around the NFL since graduating from the University in San Diego where he was twice the Pioneer League’s Defensive Player of the Year as a defensive end. He signed with the Chargers as an undrafted free agent in 2008, and has been in camp or signed practice squad contracts with the 49ers twice before (2008 and 2010), the Bucs (2009), Titans (2009), Dolphins (2010), Browns (2010) and Chiefs (2010-11).
The only time the 6-foot-3, 250-pounder has been on an active regular-season roster came in 2009, when he played three late-season games for the Titans, mostly on special teams, and had four tackles.
This summer, however, Bakhtiari might have his best opportunity to make an NFL team out of training camp. The 49ers kept only three outside linebackers on their roster last season, and may keep four this season, which might open the door a bit for Bakhtiari, reports Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee.
With injuries to several in the outside linebacker group, Bakhtiari should get significant playing time on both the defense and special teams. In Friday night’s exhibition opener, a victory over the Vikings, Bakhtiari had two sacks and led the team in tackles.
His performance has caught the eye of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
“For a guy that’s only got one year in the league or whatever, he’s got a lot of experience because he’s been in a bunch of camps,” Fangio told Barrows. “He’s a smart player. He’s experienced and it showed in that game there. He took advantage of his opportunities.”
With several linebackers nursing injuries this week – Aldon Smith, Ahmad Brooks, seventh-round draft pick Cam Johnson and Darius Fleming – Bakhtiari will certainly get plenty of time on the field Saturday night in Houston against the Texans.
Bakhtiari, however, isn’t counting his chickens – or his chances to make the roster. He’s been in camps before, only to be disappointed.
After his performance Friday, he told Barrows he just “did all right.”
This past offseason, Bakhtiari reportedly stepped up his training, working out with Packers linebacker Clay Matthews in Southern California. Bakhtiari says his workout partner pushed him to be even better. Now that he’s been around the league too often to be eligible for the practice squad, Bakhtiari knows he needs to be good enough to win a job on the regular-season roster.
“The definition of insanity is doing something over and over and expecting different results,” Bakhtiari told Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle. “I wanted to change it up.”
At least playing for Harbaugh, he knows he won’t get lost in the crowd. But he also knows his former college coach will make the best decision for his team – not Bakhtiari.
“He’s the greatest coach I’ve ever played for and that will probably remain true until my dying day,” he told Branch in June. “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.”