GREEN BAY—Bryan Bulaga wasn’t around Green Bay much during the 2013 season, but in grinding through rehab in Florida from a second consecutive season-ending injury, he most assuredly was keeping tabs on his teammates.
“Of course,” said Bulaga, the former first-round draft pick and the Packers’ starting right tackle in Super Bowl XLV. “I never said I’d do it, but I actually bought the NFL Ticket so I could watch all the games. I never said I’d buy it, but I actually did.”
Bulaga certainly never thought he’d lose all of 2013 to an injury either, not after rehabbing from a fractured hip that cost him the second half of 2012.
Having avoided surgery on the hip, Bulaga began the offseason program last year no worse for wear. Switching from right tackle to left tackle, he was making the transition look smoother physically than it probably was for him mentally. When the pads went on the first week of training camp, he was practicing like the Pro Bowler many projected he’d become.
Then what he thought was a harmless tweak of his knee during the “Family Night” scrimmage turned out to be a season-ending torn ACL. He actually finished the scrimmage after getting hurt – that’s how minor he thought it was – and then found out the next day he needed reconstructive surgery and was going on injured reserve.
“It was a terrible feeling,” he said. “You prepare your body for so long, the training for an NFL season is a six-month deal. There are all phases through six months, and to have it taken away after two weeks of training camp, it’s tough.”
It was even tougher having not played since Week 9 of 2012, when an awkward step while blocking on a running play somehow cracked his hip.
He had processed that one as the result of giving his all in the heat of battle. But his knee, on “Family Night”? He can be forgiven if he hollered, “C’mon, man,” behind closed doors, or something to that effect.
“It was frustrating at the time because it happened in training camp,” he said. “It didn’t happen in a significant game situation. It happened in a scrimmage, so that’s frustrating, but once the surgery is done, you have your rehab, you get over it.
“It’s just trying to get your body ready as fast as you can and as best you can to get ready to go for the next year.”
By all accounts, Bulaga is accomplishing that, again. Six months after the knee injury, he said he’s still rehabbing but has “no limitations” on his usual offseason training regimen.
The question doesn’t appear to be if Bulaga will be good to go, but where, meaning left or right tackle. Rookie David Bakhtiari filled in admirably all season at left tackle and has “a lot of growth in front of him,” according to Head Coach Mike McCarthy.
Offensive line coach James Campen echoed that, saying Bakhtiari learned every step of the way as a rookie, quickly corrected mistakes and is viewed as “an ascending player who’s going to be in the mix for quite some time.”
Meanwhile, Don Barclay has a full season under his belt as a starting right tackle now, and 2011 first-round draft pick Derek Sherrod worked his way back onto the active roster this past season after nearly two full years of rehab from a horrific broken leg.
“It was really great to see him wearing his pads and getting out there and being a part of it,” Campen said of Sherrod. “He got six or seven snaps at Detroit at the end (of the Thanksgiving game), and even though it’s just six or seven snaps, you can see yourself playing, and that’s important.”
Bulaga certainly sees himself playing in 2014 and said he’ll play the left or right side, wherever the coaches ask him to line up. Campen said the staff is a long way from making any decisions, but the apparent depth at tackle and pending competition will be a “good situation” for the Packers offense.
“Bryan is one that can move on quickly from things that happened. He handles adversity very well,” Campen said. “As soon as that kid is ready to go, he’s Bryan Bulaga, and he’ll be better than he was.”