First-round draft pick Bryan Bulaga began working at left guard during Monday afternoon’s practice at Ray Nitschke Field, rotating with Daryn Colledge on the No. 1 offensive line. To this point in his rookie season, Bulaga had been working strictly as a left tackle, backing up starter Chad Clifton.
But Head Coach Mike McCarthy said he felt Bulaga had “earned the right to compete for a starting position,” and after reviewing his first week of training camp, seeing him in last Saturday’s Family Night Scrimmage and discussing it with offensive line coaches James Campen and Jerry Fontenot, the decision was made Monday morning to let Bulaga begin battling at left guard.
“It’s a testament to Bryan,” McCarthy said. “He’s talented, he’s tough, he’s doing things the right way.
“He’s been impressive. I like what I’ve seen from the individual drills through the group drills all the way through the team drills, and I saw it again Saturday night. So we’re going to give him a shot.”
McCarthy said the competition at left guard will involve Colledge, Bulaga and Allen Barbre. Where that leaves Jason Spitz is uncertain because Spitz didn’t take any snaps at left guard on Monday and appeared to drop out of practice at one point, though the reason wasn’t immediately known.
Bulaga hasn’t played left guard since starting the final five games of his freshman season at Iowa there, in 2007. He was named to the Freshman All-Big Ten team by Sporting News before moving to left tackle for his final two years with the Hawkeyes, earning Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year honors as a junior before entering the draft early and being selected by the Packers with the 23rd overall pick.
So he’s not foreign to the position, but obviously it will take some getting used to after a long layoff.
“It’s a completely different feel than left tackle,” Bulaga said. “At tackle you’re more out on an island and inside (at guard) things are happening a little bit quicker with (defensive line) stunts and games and what not. It will take a little while to adjust, but I got a lot of work out there today, so that was good.”
In addition to rotating with Colledge in the team (11-on-11) portions of practice, Bulaga also took a couple of one-on-one pass-blocking reps at left guard. He admitted the first couple of snaps during the opening jog-through portion of practice were “a little rough,” but his comfort level with the offense as a whole to this point will help him add the new position to his duties.
McCarthy said Bulaga remains the top backup at left tackle as well, so he’ll continue to get reps at that position too. Bulaga was asked whether it’s a bigger adjustment in the run game or the passing game to play guard, and he essentially said both, because of the combo-blocking done with guards and centers in the run game and the stunt pickups in pass protection.
“Wherever I can fit in, I’ll fit in,” he said. “That’s kind of the way I’m looking at it. It doesn’t matter where. If it’s at tackle, it’s at tackle. If it’s at guard, it’s at guard. I’m just working to get on the field.”
Colledge was diplomatic in discussing the situation, but it’s clear he’s not going to simply concede anything to the highly touted rookie. Colledge has been the primary starter at left guard throughout camp, and for his first four seasons with the Packers.
He had been rotating a bit with Spitz and Barbre, but prior to the scrimmage it was looking as though the left guard spot might be his to lose. Now it seems open again, but that’s not going to change Colledge’s approach.
“I have to go into every day believing I’m the best player on this offensive line, the best left guard,” Colledge said. “If I stray away from that, then a guy like Bulaga will step up and take my job. So I’m going to continue to compete, I want to continue to get better.
“I don’t want to be a good lineman, I want to be a great lineman. I’m taking as many reps as I can, and I’m going to use this as even more motivation and more competition. I think Bulaga is a great young player, and he’ll continue to push me. But he’s got a lot to learn too, and I’m going to help him out the best I can. If Bulaga is a better answer than me, then we’re going to get the best five guys out there and we’re going to find a way to win.”
McCarthy hinted that having Bulaga play left guard as well as left tackle could lend some “clarity” to the depth chart down the road, particularly when final roster spots are decided and when the 53-man roster is cut to 45 each gameday.
But with Bulaga having just one day at left guard under his belt thus far, no decisions are even close to being made. With four preseason games yet to come, there’s plenty of time to sort everything out, and Bulaga is going to make the most of the time he has to compete for the position.
“I’m excited about it,” he said. “I don’t know a guy who wouldn’t be excited about it, getting there and having this opportunity. I’m excited about it, and I’m going to try to take advantage of it.”
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