Today is the fifth day of FOX Sports Wisconsin Packers writer Paul Imig’s offseason evaluations of every player on Green Bay’s roster. Come back every day between now and mid-March for his in-depth film and statistical analysis and check out the schedule below:
Season stats: Nine starts, four sacks allowed, 20 quarterback hurries allowed, five penalties
Best game: Week 6 win at Houston (one QB hurry allowed, zero sacks allowed, zero penalties, 3.6 PFF rating)
Worst game: Week 3 loss at Seattle (eight QB hurries allowed, two sacks allowed, one penalty, minus-5.6 PFF rating)
ProFootballFocus.com season rating: minus-3.0 (No. 53 out of 80 among NFL offensive tackles this season; ranked fifth out of eight Packers offensive linemen)
Expectations at the start of the season: High
Expectations were … Not met
Looking live: Several months before the season began, coach Mike McCarthy stated that he believed Bulaga was about to become a Pro Bowl-caliber right tackle. It made sense for McCarthy to think that. After all, Bulaga was the Packers’ first-round pick in 2010, was playing the less demanding of the two tackle spots and was coming off a very good season in 2011. But then, in the early stages of the 2012 season, Bulaga took a notable step back in his performance. As Green Bay got out to its disappointing 2-3 record, Bulaga’s play was a major factor in all three losses. He struggled mightily in those three games, getting beat far too many times against San Francisco, Seattle and Indianapolis. Bulaga was on the injury report in Week 4 with a knee injury, but it never kept him out of any practices. In Week 9, Bulaga fractured his hip and was placed on injured reserve.
Upon further review: This was not a good season for Bulaga. However, in the four weeks leading up to Bulaga’s season-ending hip injury, he was playing much better. It’s reasonable to think that, had he been able to play all 16 games, his performances would have continued to improve and the overall picture for his season would have been more positive. Early in the season, Bulaga looked worse than he did as a rookie. He wasn’t moving all that well and was getting pushed around by pass rushers who someone of his talent level should be able to contain. Bulaga denied that his knee injury had been a lingering issue. Watching those games again, though, Bulaga’s comments may have just been his way of not wanting to publicly make any excuses because he played as if something was ailing him. By Week 6, Bulaga was back to his 2011 self. He absolutely dominated in an upset win at Houston, playing one of the best games of his career that night. In the following three weeks, Bulaga didn’t continue at that elite level but was still quite good. Either his injured knee was feeling better or he simply regained some lost confidence. Either way, there was a clear change in his performance after a very rocky first month.
Overall 2012 grade: C
Status for 2013: 100 percent chance of being one of the Packers’ starting tackles. The most likely scenario is Bulaga returning to right tackle, but there’s a chance he could get a shot at left tackle. That decision will depend more on Derek Sherrod’s health and the team’s long-term outlook on Marshall Newhouse than it will Bulaga’s ability and desire to make the switch. Bulaga, 23, has the talent to play every season like he did in 2011. As McCarthy stated, 2011 was a Pro Bowl type season for him. If his hip injury doesn’t affect him going forward, which it shouldn’t, expectations will once again be high for Bulaga next season.