1) Introduction: As the sixth Iowa player to be named Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year, Bryan Bulaga was one of the top prospects at his position going into the draft. That’s why many people were shocked when – despite his “dinosaur arms” – he fell to the Packers at the 23rd pick. In what seemed to be fate calling, Green Bay practically had to take him. Not only could Bulaga be considered the “best player available,” he was also filling a dire need for the team that allowed over 50 sacks in 2009. Many fans and media experts saw Bulaga as the Packers’ LT of the future, eventually replacing veteran Chad Clifton.
Bryan Joseph Bulaga
Height: 6-5 Weight: 315 lbs.
3) Expectations coming into the season: As a first round draft pick, many people expected Bryan Bulaga to be a starter at the beginning of the season. The problem was, however, that there was some uncertainty as to where along the line he should play. Since he was a LG-turned-LT in college, Bulaga was projected to take on one of those positions. Some people said he should only be trained at tackle, others said he was a superior option to Daryn Colledge and should be played at guard. And yet, despite his first round status and the paycheck that went with it, there was the thought that he should be groomed to start in 2011 and play as a backup in 2010.
As the preseason went on, the coaches clearly began to place Bulaga in competition with Colledge as the starting LG. Unfortunately, a hip injury sustained in training camp took him out of the running as a starter. He would be considered a solid backup offensive lineman at the start of the season.
4) Highlights / Lowlights: Bryan Bulaga saw his first significant playing time in Week 2 against the Buffalo Bills after Chad Clifton was pulled due to a nagging injury and poor performance. Proceeding to outshine Clifton as the LT in that game, many fans (and bloggers) started calling for Bulaga to take over the job permanently. If there was any doubt in Bulaga’s playing ability, it was seemingly quelled in that performance, and it gave fans a lot of hope for the future.
Fast forward to Week 5 and the Packers’ loss to the Miami Dolphins, and you found fans suddenly singing a different tune about Bulaga’s abilities. Cameron Wake more than made Bulaga look like a rookie starting out of position in that game, sacking Aaron Rodgers three times in the process. It was probably Wake’s best game of the year . . . and Bulaga’s worst.
5) Contributions to the overall team success: For the first few games of the season, Bulaga performed primarily as a backup. His number was called quickly, however, when veteran RT Mark Tauscher left in Week 5 with an injury that would send him to injured reserve. Though Bulaga was obviously the most skilled player on the depth chart to fill in for Tauscher, he had never played a snap on the right side in his entire career. Now he was starting there, and in place of a Packers offensive cornerstone.
Bulaga’s season was full of the “ups and downs” you would expect any rookie to have. For all of his solid play, there was still the occasional penalty, bad play, or missed assignment. One of his most superlative qualities, however, was his ability to bounce back from bad performances and learn from his mistakes. The execution of his duties must also be tempered with the fact that he faced elite pass rushers just about the entire season. All three of Green Bay’s NFC North opponents showcased solid front defensive lines. So while Bulaga had his rookie moments, he did well enough in both pass protection and run blocking to help the Packers win games.
6) Contributions during the end-of-season 6-game run: For as much as Bulaga stepped up to the plate and aptly handled his RT duties during the year, he seemed to hit the proverbial “rookie wall” for the last stretch of the season. Bulaga showed some drop in technique against the New York Giants’ Justin Tuck, and his game against the Chicago Bears in Week 17 was awful to say the least. Of the four penalties drawn by the Packers, all of them were on Bulaga, and the offense failed to secure a first down after each one.
That said, Bulaga responded as he did all year: by coming back stronger. He had zero penalties the entire post-season, and that was in the face of defenders like the Eagle’s Juqua Parker, the Falcons’ John Abraham, the Bears’ Julius Peppers, and the Steelers’ LaMarr Woodley. He did still have some struggles, but overall his performance was pretty consistent with what he did all year.
Season Report Card:
(B) Level of expectations met during the season
(C+) Contributions to team’s overall success
(C+) Contributions to team’s success during the playoff run (last 6 games)
Overall Grade for the Year: (B-)——————Follow @ChadToporski