The wait is over for Bryan Bulaga.
Itching to play for the past two games but held out by the medical staff due to his knee injury, Bulaga practiced all week and is listed as “probable” on the injury report for Sunday’s home game against St. Louis.
“Bryan Bulaga is ready to go and he’ll play in this game,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said on Friday.
The lingering question seems to be how much he’ll play. McCarthy said the goal this week was to get all three offensive tackles – Bulaga, Marshall Newhouse and Derek Sherrod – prepared to play and then decide how to line up. McCarthy hinted that one option, presumably if Bulaga’s knee isn’t up to handling four full quarters, would be for all three tackles to play in some sort of snap-sharing arrangement.
“How we sort that out, we’ll talk about … if we do it by reps or go with just two of the three,” McCarthy said. “I really want to see how Bryan feels after the work today, especially after being inside two days on the FieldTurf (inside the Don Hutson Center).”
After practice on Friday, Bulaga said he felt fine. He’s getting accustomed to a brace he’s wearing on his knee, but he says it’s more comfortable than the pair of braces he wore as a standard measure in college at Iowa.
“I’ll be wearing it for a little bit here, until the doctor is OK with me taking it off and running around and doing stuff without it on the practice field,” Bulaga said. “But it doesn’t really hinder my movement of quickness or anything. I don’t really feel it at all. It’s just a brace.”
If it were up to him, Bulaga would like to play the whole game on Sunday. Then, again, he wanted to play the following week after injuring his knee in Chicago on Sept. 25, but he wasn’t allowed back onto the practice field until this past Wednesday, two and a half weeks after sustaining the injury.
“I don’t know what the coaches have planned,” he said. “If I do happen to start the game, I’d like to ride it out and finish it. It will be a good test to see how it goes, going a full 60 minutes on it against live competition.”
Last week with Bulaga still out and left tackle Chad Clifton going down with a hamstring injury during the Atlanta game, Newhouse moved from Bulaga’s spot on the right side into Clifton’s place, and Sherrod came in at right tackle.
All things considered – that Newhouse was taking his first game snaps at left tackle and Sherrod was essentially making his NFL debut – the offensive line held up well. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked four times, though, the first time during the Packers’ current 11-game winning streak dating back to last December that Rodgers went down four times in one game.
Offensive Coordinator Joe Philbin said before the season started that he wanted to see last year’s sack total of 38 (46 including postseason games) cut roughly in half. Last week’s four sacks put the season total at 11, meaning Philbin’s goal is almost already out of reach.
From the coaching staff’s point of view, the standards are high and no matter who’s in there, they’re expected to protect the quarterback.
“I think we’ve had fewer hits on the quarterback, but sacks aren’t where we want them to be,” Philbin said. “I don’t think our quarterback has taken a lot of unnecessary hits, but our sacks are still too high.”
With Clifton out for at least several weeks, and possibly longer, a key figure in the pass-protection going forward will likely be Newhouse, should he stay at left tackle. He guarded the quarterback’s blind side in college at TCU and has been praised since the day he arrived as a fifth-round draft pick that has the quick, nimble feet to play the position.
The best attribute Newhouse has shown so far is steadiness in trying circumstances, having been thrown into the middle of the Chicago game when Bulaga went down and then flipping sides last week when Clifton got hurt.
Now, it appears he’ll get the chance to settle in.
“My coaches trust me and I trust my abilities,” Newhouse said. “They put me in situations some people might crumble under. I feel like I’ve succeeded, but there’s always room to improve and I’m just looking to get better each week.” Additional coverage - Oct. 14