When Bryan Bulaga was selected with the 23rd overall pick in the NFL Draft last April, conventional wisdom held that the young lineman would sit behind the likes of Chad Clifton and Daryn Colledge for a year (although Bulaga briefly competed for Colledge's job) while learning the ropes and gearing up to take over for Clifton or Colledge next season.
Of course, as we all know, things rarely go according to plan (or conventional wisdom for that matter). When Mark Tauscher went down during the October 3rd victory over the Detroit Lions and Bulaga was inserted into the lineup - even though he had taken minimal snaps at the position in practice and had never taken a snap there in any game, professional or otherwise.
As they year went along you saw Bulaga have his ups and downs as you would expect from any rookie. You saw the lows, such as the week he faced the Dolphins' Cameron Wake where he was seemingly overmatched when it came to Wake's third down pass rushing onslaught. But you never had to wait too long for a response from Bulaga, who came out the following week and shut down Ray Edwards and everything else the Vikings threw at him in a game the Packers simply could not afford to lose.
The kid out of Iowa has faced down everyone from Julius Peppers to Justin Tuck, and while he has had his fare share of struggles it has been an overall impressive body of work considering the fact that he had never played the position before this year and that he is consistently going up against veterans that want no part of Chad Clifton. He's been the starting point for almost every defensive coodinator that wants to try and figure out how to get pressure on Aaron Rodgers and for the most part he has risen to the challenge. The one glaring mistake he's made was on the final drive in New England when he inexplicably blocked down and let the left outside linebacker come clean for a momentum-killing sack.
Last week I wrote about the fantastic job the trio of Aaron Rodgers, Scott Wells and Brandon Jackson did when it came to setting pass protection against Dick LeBeau and the Steelers' blitz. In that meeting, the Steelers got to Rodgers a few times but only recorded one sack, and that was on a screen pass where Tauscher released early and Grant basically let the rushers through trying to get out to receive the pass from Rodgers.
You can bet LeBeau and company will be taking a long, hard look at the rookie that didn't play in the 2009 matchup and how they can try and take advantage.
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