Health progressing, Bulaga unsure if he’ll be at left or right tackle in 2014
GREEN BAY, Wis. — As Bryan Bulaga attempted to exit the Green Bay Packers’ locker room one day after the team’s season ended, the injured offensive tackle didn’t understand why reporters were interested in talking with him. Bulaga soon found out, however, after more than 20 minutes worth of media members crowding near his 6-foot-5, 314-pound frame, that a season away from the Packers didn’t mean he was a forgotten man.
It was back on Family Night on Aug. 3 during the team’s annual scrimmage that Bulaga tore his ACL. The big offseason move from right tackle to left tackle for Bulaga was barely one week old when he suffered what he initially thought was just a tweak of his left knee.
Fifth months later, Bulaga is far along into his rehabilitation and progressing well.
"I haven’t had any setbacks," Bulaga said. "We like where we’re at right now."
Bulaga added that it "wasn’t a complete tear," which helped while working toward a full recovery at the IMG Academy in Florida. However, Bulaga isn’t comfortable talking timelines. What he is confident in, though, is that the date of the injury should put him in a position to be on the field in a full practice capacity by the time the Packers begin their 2014 training camp in late July — more than six months from now.
"That makes it a full year is back into training camp," Bulaga said. "There’s many different theories about what a timetable for the injury is. Adrian Peterson did it in seven months or whatever he did it in. Every guy is different with this injury, so to know that I have a full calendar year which puts me back into about the second week of training camp is a positive."
Bulaga spent the season away from his teammates, almost completely disconnected. When the reality of that set in, he broke down and did what he told himself he’d never do: he bought a season-long NFL television subscription, allowing him to watch Packers games 1,400 miles away from the Lambeau Field headquarters where he had hoped to be spending his year.
One aspect of the team that he kept a close eye on was the spot where he was replaced at left tackle. Bulaga’s injury opened the door for fourth-round rookie David Bakhtiari to step into the starting lineup much sooner than anyone in the organization anticipated.
"I thought he did a good job," Bulaga said of Bakhtiari. "I’m not in the meetings to watch the actual tape, I’m not there to hear the play or hear the scheme, so it’s hard for me as a guy that hasn’t heard what they were trying to do on a certain play, or what scheme was to evaluate a guy; it’s not my job, either. (But) I thought overall he did a good job, he stepped into a difficult situation. A lot of good pass rushers this season, I thought he held his own."
That Bakhtiari did hold his own during Bulaga’s season-long absence creates one of the more intriguing questions this offseason, one that there isn’t a definitive answer to yet. Will Bulaga remain at left tackle, or does that role now belong to Bakhtiari moving forward?
Bulaga had spent all but a few snaps during the first three years of his NFL career at right tackle, but coach Mike McCarthy’s idea to get the Packers’ best offensive linemen — at the time, Bulaga and guard Josh Sitton — to the left side was still in its infancy when the injury happened on Family Night.
If Bulaga is asked to resume his original role on the offensive line at right tackle next season, there shouldn’t be much of a re-adjustment period.
"I didn’t even get a full year at left tackle, more like two months," Bulaga said. "I think that’s part of my game that I like; I feel like I can go back and forth."
"Wherever they need me to play, I’ll play," Bulaga added later.
Neither coach Mike McCarthy nor offensive line coach James Campen were ready to address that question, either. But the overwhelming positivity toward Bakhtiari’s performance may be the first indicator that Bulaga will soon be back at right tackle.
"I don’t think you could ask for more than what David gave us this year," McCarthy said. "I know Josh Sitton did an excellent job with David. You talk about a left guard and a left tackle developing that relationship, that’s critical over there, and I know David really appreciates that, too, and that’s what you look for from your veterans. I thought David had a good solid season for us and I’m excited about him growing because he’s a young man. He’s got a lot of growth in front of him.
"Talking to both Derek Sherrod and Bryan Bulaga, I told them both that as we go through this evaluation process, as soon as we decide how we’re going to set reps as far as positions and the identity that I’d get back to them, but I don’t have an answer for you right now."
Regardless of where he lines up, Bulaga is just hoping to put his recent string of injuries behind him. After missing the final seven games of the 2012 season with a hip injury and barely having a chance to get out of the gate in 2013 before his knee injury, Bulaga just wants to get to the 2014 season and be healthy again.
"I think it’s difficult because it’s two years back-to-back," Bulaga said. "To be put on IR two weeks into training camp, it’s just difficult. Mentally it’s difficult, and it’s been something that, obviously right when it happened it was a little difficult to mentally get past it. But once I got past it, it was just knowing you have to go through the rehab and same thing day after day, day after day to get your body and what you need ready to go for the next season."
Now Bulaga waits to find out if he’ll be getting his body ready to protect Aaron Rodgers’ blind side or if he’ll settle back into the position where he’s started 33 games.
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