GREEN BAY—There’s no time for transition in the Green Bay Packers’ locker room. There never is.
Upon learning Monday that yet another starter, this time right tackle Bryan Bulaga, has been lost for the season due to injury, the Packers took to the practice field following their bye week essentially unfazed.
“We can’t let this affect us,” said offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith, who will now start at left guard, with T.J. Lang moving over to right tackle to take Bulaga’s place. “It’s a terrible thing that happened to ‘Bull.’ He has our sentiment and everything like that. But he knows … we’re not worrying about him. We’re worrying about winning football games.”
That approach becomes the norm when you’re as accustomed to dealing with injuries as the Packers. Bulaga (hip) is the fourth starter – fifth if you count running back Cedric Benson, who has been designated to possibly return from injured reserve – to go on IR this season. Other injuries to defensive back Charles Woodson and receiver Greg Jennings have reached long-term status now, though both are expected back by season’s end.
With regard to Bulaga’s absence, the biggest adjustment falls on Lang, a starter at left guard the past two seasons who started games at both tackle spots as a rookie in 2009 and has been viewed as a valuable swing player ever since.
“It was difficult my first couple years in the league when I was forced to do it,” Lang said of changing positions. “Now, I think I have enough experience that when things do happen like that, you have to be ready for it, adjust quick and move on.
“The biggest thing is switching your feet up, getting your technique right, and that just comes with time. I’m looking forward to having the whole week practicing out there and getting better at that technical stuff.”
When Bulaga left in the first half of the Arizona game two Sundays ago, the offensive line didn’t skip a beat. The Packers went on to rush for 176 yards against the Cardinals, the running game’s best total in three years, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers wasn’t sacked after the first play of the game.
“Out of any team, we know how to handle this,” right guard Josh Sitton said. “T.J. has rolled over there before, did it last week, and it was fine. Our biggest thing is depth now. We just need to stay healthy from here on out.”
If they don’t, how they would adjust and line up isn’t entirely clear. The next two active linemen are undrafted rookies Don Barclay, who plays guard and tackle, and Greg Van Roten, who plays center and guard. Sitton also said he considers himself an “emergency backup right tackle” if needed.
Also, second-year tackle Derek Sherrod returned to the practice field on Monday after spending all season to this point on the physically unable to perform list. When or if he’ll be ready to actually play in a game after nearly 11 months off, however, isn’t known. Sherrod has not yet been activated to the 53-man roster, and the Packers have two weeks left to do so.
The other position whose depth is being tested is outside linebacker. The status of Clay Matthews, who left the Arizona game with a hamstring injury, remains up in the air.
Erik Walden already has replaced Nick Perry at one starting spot, and if Matthews misses any time, undrafted rookie Dezman Moses would likely step in for him. Frank Zombo, who recently came off PUP, and Vic So’oto, who made the Packers’ roster as an undrafted rookie in 2011 and was re-signed on Monday, give the Packers four healthy outside linebackers, though inside linebackers Jamari Lattimore and Brad Jones have played outside previously and could substitute in a pinch.
Zombo and So’oto haven’t played for the Packers yet this season, though, and the inside linebacker position is awfully thin as well, making any change involving Lattimore or Jones, who is starting inside, probably a last resort.
That throws a bright spotlight on Moses, who has played throughout the season in variations of the dime sub-package and has one sack to his credit.
“It’s not time to be dumbfounded or too excited or overwhelmed by the situation,” Moses said, echoing the words of the many Green Bay backups thrust into more prominent roles this season. “It’s just time to hunker down and make plays.” Additional coverage - Nov. 12