By Jerrell Richardon
The injury to starting linebacker Parys Haralson right before the 49ers’ Week One match-up against the Green Bay Packers left San Francisco scrambling to fill the void. Initially the team’s prayers were answered as they landed Clark Haggans, giving them a savvy veteran who was both experienced as a starter for the Arizona Cardinals the year before and has played in a similar defensive scheme. The 49ers could not have asked for anything more given the circumstances, but of course, there was a catch. At the time Haggans was waiting for his hearing with the NFL due to a DUI conviction from 2011. The decision by the NFL came down on Wednesday and it was not what the team had hoped for — Haggans will have to sit out three games.
Haggans plead guilty to “extreme DUI,” as his blood alcohol level was over twice the legal limit. Now before fans wonder if the off-field actions of one of the team’s newest members will be an issue, the facts are somewhat important in this case. Yes, he was operating a vehicle well over the legal limit and had his wife in the car. However, he reports that he was at a concert with his wife when he received a call that his daughter was having troubles breathing. Therefore, instead of the irresponsible drinker who thinks it’s alright to drive, in this case, it’s someone who was out drinking and unexpectedly received startling news about his daughter. Does it change the fact or justify what he did? No. But it does mean that this should be an isolated incident and not a re-occuring event, and also reason why only three games is a fair punishment.
Back Up Plan
The 49ers were well aware that Haggans could be hit with a suspension and had a Plan B in place. By losing a player to a suspension, the team can save his roster spot and add another player. The replacement, like Haggans, would need to be as up to speed as possible, and of course, talented, which made it a no-brainer to call back Eric Bakhtiari.
The San Mateo native was with the 49ers during this past training camp and preseason, and was released less than a month ago. The former University of San Diego star entered the league in 2008 and has bounced around to a few teams, but has yet find the right situation. He is now faced with the perfect opportunity to establish himself as a NFL-caliber player and find himself a home. His talent is not in question — while at the University of San Diego he was a two-time Pioneer Football League defensive player of the year and earned first-team honors three times. Having previously been with the 49ers very recently, he is clearly familiar with the system and should still be in playing shape. In fact, he is actually ahead of Haggans, who although familiar with the scheme, would still have to pick up the nuances of the San Francisco defense. It should not hurt that Bakhtiari’s coach in college was none other then 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, meaning that Bakhtiari has the advantage of playing for a coach who already knows how to put him in a position to succeed.
Three Day Audition
Eric Bakhtiari essentially has a three-day contract to prove his worth, which, for a un-drafted player who was sitting at home, is a dream come true. If he is able to make his impact felt then there would be no reason for the team to not offer him a spot. Motivation is not something that most athletes need, but he has been given a second chance at making a very good team, and if he does not make the most out of his opportunity, then he is not the player that the team wanted to begin with. He will either make Haggans expendable or make the team glad that they signed him, but regardless, it’s on the play of Bakhtiari to decide whom the team will move forward with.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. His work can be found on Examiner.com.