GREEN BAY, Wis. — When the Packers used the 23rd overall pick in the 2010 draft to select offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga, it made sense. At the time, veteran left tackle Chad Clifton was about to begin his 11th NFL season at age 34, and his days as a starter appeared to be winding down.
Bulaga, who played left tackle at Iowa and was the Big Ten’s offensive lineman of the year, seemed to be Clifton’s eventual replacement.
However, just two years later, that plan has been scrapped and the Packers will instead continue using Bulaga as their starting right tackle.
On the weekend of the 2012 NFL draft, coach Mike McCarthy dismissed any notion of switching Bulaga to left tackle now that Clifton’s career in Green Bay is over.
“I don’t see any reason to go down that road,” McCarthy said. “I think Bryan is on the verge of being a Pro Bowler at right tackle. I look for him to have that type of season.”
But Bulaga, who is still only 23 years old and seemed like a logical choice to be the guy responsible for protecting Aaron Rodgers’ blind side now and for many seasons to come, didn’t seem to want to make the switch anyway.
“I’m happy with where I’m at,” Bulaga said during the team’s offseason programs. “I’m comfortable there. I like playing next to (Josh) Sitton. It works out well.”
Bulaga added that it “didn’t really come across (his) mind” that he might transition to left tackle now that Clifton is gone.
If that’s true, Bulaga is in the minority, as there was a lot of speculation that he would slide four spots to the left along the offensive line.
After all, offensive tackles drafted in the first round don’t typically settle in at right tackle long term, especially if they show promise early in their careers, as Bulaga has. Those high draft picks are typically projected to be left tackles, a more challenging and more demanding spot than right tackle when working with a right-handed quarterback.
Perhaps general manager Ted Thompson tipped his hand in the 2011 draft that, if he did see Bulaga as a future left tackle in 2010, it was no longer the case. Because just one year later, Thompson again used a first-round pick to select an offensive tackle, this time taking Derek Sherrod at No. 32 overall.
Due to the lockout during the summer of 2011, Sherrod, like all rookies, was not given an opportunity to participate in a regular offseason workout schedule. That likely played a role in Sherrod’s poor showing in training camp as he struggled at different spots along the offensive line, including losing a position battle with T.J. Lang with an opportunity to start at left guard.
With Bulaga seemingly the Packers’ long-term answer at right tackle, Sherrod could still be the starting left tackle in Green Bay sooner or later. But, after suffering a broken leg late last season and spending the entire offseason rehabbing it, Sherrod will likely spend his second year in the NFL in a backup role as he tries to get back to full health.
That means Marshall Newhouse, who was drafted 146 spots after Bulaga in 2010, will almost certainly be the Packers’ starting left tackle in 2012. It was Newhouse who stepped in last season at left tackle when Clifton was plagued by hamstring and back injuries, and he did well considering the circumstances.
In Newhouse’s 13 starts, he had his good games and his bad games — allowing Vikings’ pass-rushing monster Jared Allen to squash Rodgers twice in Week 7 counts as a bad one. But with no plans to move Bulaga over, McCarthy is hoping Newhouse can keep Rodgers protected, on his feet and injury-free as the Packers try to get back to the Super Bowl following a disappointing playoff appearance last season.