Pack hope rookie Bulaga can step up at left tackle
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP)
It's often said that if an offensive lineman goes through a game without being noticed, he had a pretty good day.
So it had to be a good sign when Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers sat down to watch the film of Sunday's victory over the Buffalo Bills and he was surprised to see that Bryan Bulaga came into the game in the second quarter - not the second half, as Rodgers remembered it.
''He did a nice job for us,'' Rodgers said. ''So when you're not thinking about a young guy over there, it's very comforting. And when you watch the film, you see how well he played. That's also comforting.''
Bulaga, a first-round pick out of Iowa, replaced veteran left tackle Chad Clifton after coaches determined that Clifton's chronically bothersome knees were affecting his play.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy made it clear this week that Clifton remains the team's starting left tackle. But it's unclear if Clifton will be ready to start Monday night's game at Chicago, meaning Bulaga could make the first of what is expected to be many starts at left tackle for the Packers.
''Chad Clifton is the starting tackle,'' McCarthy said. ''If he is medically unable to go, then we'll see what happens, but we won't announce that until game time. ... If not, we feel very comfortable going with Bryan.''
Clifton was listed as limited for Thursday's practice, and was not participating during the portion of practice open to the media. McCarthy said he was hopeful Clifton would return Friday or Saturday.
Getting his first career start in Soldier Field certainly would be a big moment for Bulaga, a native of Crystal Lake, Ill., who admitted after being drafted that he grew up a Bears fan. The rookie walked that notion back a few steps on Thursday, noting that he'd never attended an NFL game before coming to the Packers: ''I wasn't really a huge NFL or Bears fan, I was just a football fan,'' he said.
Besides, he now has bigger things to focus on.
''Starting right now, I don't really know anything about that,'' Bulaga said. ''I mean, if I could, if that happens, that'd be exciting. But that's looking a little too far ahead right now.''
Of course, any warm, fuzzy feelings Bulaga might have about returning home could be neutralized by the thought of facing Bears defensive end Julius Peppers.
''He's a big, strong, physical guy,'' Bulaga said. ''He can go over you or he can go around you. He has a good arsenal of moves and you just have to prepare for all of them and work your fundamentals well and do everything right. You have to be on target every time to stop a guy like that.''
Bulaga said he hasn't watched a lot of extra film this week because he already watches a lot. And he insists his preparation for Monday's game won't be much different, other than getting more snaps at left tackle in practice.
''That's how I kind of approach every week, prepare like I'm going to be starting and if I get my opportunity, I get my opportunity,'' Bulaga said. ''Chad is the starting left tackle, I think everyone's made that clear here; I know that and I think everyone else knows that. But every week I prepare myself going in thinking, `Hey, I could get an opportunity.'''
That hasn't stopped his friends and family from calling and asking if he's going to start.
''I've been getting a lot of phone calls this week asking about it and I'm telling them the same thing I'm telling you guys, `I have no idea,''' Bulaga said. ''Just day by day here.''
And, no, Bulaga hasn't had to hire a full-time assistant to handle ticket requests.
''My folks got some tickets through some friends and I think my brother won box seats at an auction or something like that,'' Bulaga said. ''So they're all set up, I'm good to go. I don't have to worry about that.''
And while his family might live in the middle of Bears country, their loyalty isn't in doubt.
''I think the Bulaga family is backing the Packers,'' Bulaga said.