Green Bay Packers offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga last played a live down on November 4, 2012. Now, as we enter the 2014-15 season, his return is highly anticipated and immensely needed.
Bulaga’s career up to this point has been a bit of an enigma through a combination of unfortunate injuries, missed opportunities, and unfulfilled promises. When he’s on the field, he shows a lot of ability and tenacity. Keeping him on the field, however, has been a little bit of a problem over the last two seasons.
The Packers drafted Bulaga with their first-round selection in the 2010 draft with the idea that he’d be the left tackle successor to aging Chad Clifton. In a show of true professionalism, Clifton embraced the idea of mentoring his eventual replacement.
Perhaps as a sign of unexpected things to come, Bulaga was counted upon during his 2010 rookie season to solidify the right tackle position after Mark Tauscher suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. Bulaga played admirably, and the Packers went on to win Super Bowl XLV.
Entering the 2011 season, the defending champion Packers appeared set with the bookend tackle combination of Clifton on the left and Bulaga on the right. They even drafted left tackle Derrick Sherrod as another option to succeed Clifton.
However, Clifton was hampered by injuries all season. In a somewhat curious move, the Packers elected to keep Bulaga on the right and try youngster Marshall Newhouse on the left. Sherrod proved to not be a viable option.
That 2011 offensive line was a bit of a motley crew en route to allowing 41 sacks and generating a measly 3.9 yards per rushing attempt.
Things got worse for the Packers in 2012. They still had a pedestrian 3.9 yards per carry, but they yielded an astronomical 51 sacks of Aaron Rodgers.
To make matters worse, when the Packers needed their running game the most during the cold months, Bulaga’s season ended on November 4, 2012, when he suffered a hip injury against the Arizona Cardinals.
During the following off-season, head coach Mike McCarthy didn’t mince words. By announcing he was swapping the left and right sides of his offensive line, he was boldly proclaiming the Marshall Newhouse experiment at left tackle was over and Bryan Bulaga was finally going to get his shot at the money position of left tackle.
As was par for the course in Bulaga’s career up this point, that plan never came to fruition. He tore his ACL during the August 4, 2013 family night scrimmage and was lost for the season. The offensive line of the future would once again not be anchored by Bulaga.
In Bulaga’s absence, rookie David Bakhtiari emerged as a legitimate left tackle. In fact, McCarthy has already announced that he enters the 2014-15 season as the starter protecting Aaron Rodgers’ blind side. Bulaga will compete with Don Barclay for the starting nod at right tackle.
So, he we are again with unsettled business with Bryan Bulaga. All indications are he should win the starting right tackle position during training camp.
While sort of showing his hand, McCarthy said, “Bryan Bulaga looks good…He’s stronger. He weighs a little more than he has in the past. So he’s having a heck of a spring.”
If Bulaga can stay healthy and win the starting right tackle position, the Packers are poised to have their best offensive line in years. Bakhtiari is improving, as is guard T.J. Lang. Fellow guard Josh Sitton is arguably the best in football. The major question mark is the center position.
The offensive line must improve in 2014-15. Last season, they yielded 45 quarterback sacks, including the one that broke Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone.
Having Bulaga solidify the right side will certainly help. Barclay is an accomplished run blocker, but he lacks considerably in pass protection when compared to Bulaga.
This season is the highly anticipated, and perhaps last chance, return of Bulaga. This is the final year of his rookie contract, which will be telling for both sides of the business equation.
Bulaga will be playing for a new contract, whether it’s with the Packers or elsewhere, so he should have motivation to play at a very high level. He must also prove he can stay healthy to warrant a new contract.
From the Packers’ perspective, Bulaga must show them he’s the answer at right tackle. Up to this point, he has not been able to emerge as the central piece that a first-round pick would warrant. He’s bounced around the offensive line and hasn’t been able to take ownership of any of the plans the Packers had for him.
We’ll soon find out what the future holds for Bulaga, the offensive line, and the Packers’ offense. If things go to plan, which has been a major problem in the past, they certainly look bright.——————