Eric Bakhtiari made up a word this week, but it's a good word: meritocracist. As in: Jim Harbaugh is a meritocracist.
Bakhtiari, you see, played for Harbaugh at the University of San Diego beginning in 2004. "He was a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, and he had a tremendous college career," Harbaugh recalled. "He was our best player on defense when he was down there. He had a great career."
In fact, Bakhtiari was on a panel of players who actually interviewed Harbaugh in the spring of 2003 and gave the then-Raiders assistant their seal of approval before he was given the head-coaching job.
So Harbaugh owes you one, right? Nah, says Bakhtiari, who is now an outside linebacker with the 49ers. "He's seen me play but that's as far as it goes," he said. "Harbaugh's always been a meritocracist. You have to earn everything you get."
Still, Bakhtiari seems to have a fair shot - a puncher's chance - of making the squad. The 49ers said they gambled last year by having only three outside linebackers on the roster and won't do so again this season. They drafted two players at the position in April, but one of them, Notre Dame's Darius Fleming, tore his ACL during a rookie minicamp.
That injury likely means Bakhtiari will be competing with seventh-round pick Cam Johnson when training camp begins next month. "Somebody's going to have to fill that role," Harbaugh said. "So we'll keep looking at it and evaluating it every day."
Whoever becomes the No. 4 outside linebacker would have to play a lot of special teams, and Bakhtiari says that's his specialty and his ticket to winning a roster spot. "Be an outstanding special teams player and prove that you have worth on the defensive side of the ball. And that's my goal, that's my focus," he said.
After leaving San Diego, Bakhtiari, who is from Burlingame, has bounced around the league. He's already been on the 49ers' practice squad twice - once in 2008 and again in 2010. He says his practice-squad eligibility ran out two years ago.
"It's 53 (-man roster) or bust," he said. "My job opportunities dwindled in the last couple of years."
-- Matt Barrows