For the first time at a practice open to the public this season, Bryan Bulaga lined up at left tackle in a team environment at Tuesday’s Organized Team Activities (OTAs) in Green Bay.
Bulaga’s switch to left tackle comes as part of a larger philosophical change by head coach Mike McCarthy in the offseason that is aimed at the traditional football school of thought that puts the quicker players on the left side of the offensive line and the stronger players on the right side.
Even better news for the Packers is Bulaga’s health. While teammates such as Desmond Bishop, Derek Sherrod and others are still sidelined by a variety of ailments at the onset of OTAs, Bulaga is showing few ill effects from a fractured left hip that landed him on injured reserve last season.
“(He) looks good,” said McCarthy during a press conference. “Really, I think if you asked Bryan Bulaga about his hip injury, he probably felt like he could have played at some point later in the season in his mind. But it was definitely a path of rehab that was in his best interests for the long term, for his career.
“He looks great. He’s been here the whole offseason. I’ve seen Bryan it seems like almost every day since the season’s ended.”
Read into it what you will, but last week Bulaga carded at 39 in a recreational round of golf at a local course, as published in the Green Bay Press-Gazette. It’s probably dangerous to put much stock into it, but for a sport that requires as much trunk twisting as golf, it can only be a good sign that the new Packers left tackle is out hitting the links in the month of May.
“I feel good,” Bulaga told reporters. “The hip healed very well in the offseason. There’s no issues with it, no setbacks, nothing kind of stopped the progression we were going with.”
Bulaga only played in nine games last year before his season was in ended in early November in a game against the Arizona Cardinals. His leg awkwardly locked in the turf while setting up for pass protection and he later landed in a heap on the ground.
The 2012 season started slowly for Bulaga, lowlighted by his performance against the Seattle Seahawks when he alone was responsible for giving up two sacks and eight quarterback hurries (according to ProFootballFocus.com) in a game that the Packers allowed eight sacks in one half of football.
From that point forward, however, Bulaga appeared to be progressing and hitting his stride just as injury struck.
This season, he’ll make the transition to the left side of the offensive line along with Josh Sitton who will be moving from right guard to left guard.
“I’m excited for them personally because I know they look at it as a great opportunity,” said McCarthy. “They accepted the challenge, and they were excited about the challenge when we sat down and talked about it.
“Frankly, it’s my responsibility to give them the reps and work against Clay (Matthews) and our defensive line, just the speed of it right now is excellent work for them. We feel good about the move.”
Making the transition easier for both Bulaga and Sitton is that they’ve gained a degree of comfort lining up to each other for parts of the past three seasons. Communication shouldn’t be much of an issue.
There will still be apprehension about the muscle memory it will take to get used to dropping and setting with opposite foot and handwork as compared to the right side of the offensive line.
For Bulaga, he can fall back upon his college days at Iowa when he was used at left tackle for the Hawkeyes, but as for Sitton, he played primarily right tackle at Central Florida.
Still, there’s no turning back now. Bulaga and Sitton will be protecting Aaron Rodgers’ blind side, for better or worse, during the 2013 season. The Packers can only hope it’s better after Rodgers endured a league-high 51 sacks last season.
“I’ve been playing next to Josh every snap since I’ve been here,” said Bulaga. “It’s comfortable having him over there. We’re both kind of going through the same transitions. It’s good to have him.
“We’re learning together; we’re trying in sync over there on the left side like we were on the right side. Like I said, it’s going to be a process. But it’s a good start with these OTAs, just so we can kind of bounce back into it gradually where we need to be.”
Brian Carriveau is the author of “It’s Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America,” and editor of Cheesehead TV’s “Pro Football Draft Preview.” To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.