GREEN BAY – It was a strong consensus of opinion.
According to his teammates and coaches, Packers right tackle Bryan Bulaga put together not only his best season in 2016, but a Pro Bowl-level one. The thought was brought up time and time again down the stretch and into the postseason last year.
The accolade didn’t come his way, and perhaps it’s only a matter of time. But whatever the case, Bulaga puts more stock in the internal evaluation than the external one anyway.
“To me, as long as my coaches and teammates think I’m doing a good job, that’s all that matters,” Bulaga said after practice on Monday. “All that other stuff, that’s out of my hands. All the voting, it is what it is. You can’t control it.”
To his credit, as much as some league-wide recognition would be deserving, Bulaga’s focus remains on other things.
For one, he’s in tremendous shape. He continues to trim body fat and replace it with lean muscle mass, keeping his weight in the 305-310 range. He believes his conditioning regimen over the past couple of offseasons has alleviated stress on his joints and allowed him to have his healthiest year in 2016.
He had missed only five games over the 2014-15 campaigns after losing the 2013 season to an ACL tear, but starting every game for the first time in his career meant something, and it was no coincidence his healthiest year was his best.
“I didn’t get nicked up, I didn’t have to miss any time, no surgeries. I made it through the season pretty healthy,” he said, smiling with acknowledgement that there’s good fortune involved as well. “I think that’s a big factor into playing consistent, playing well. Obviously everyone’s nicked up to some degree, but not (being) injured, that’s different.”
So is his neighboring linemate for the first time in several years. Free agent Jahri Evans was signed from the Saints to replace the departed T.J. Lang, a close friend with whom Bulaga stays in touch.
Training camp is for developing chemistry and cohesion with Evans, a process that has ramped up now with the pads on and practices featuring a heightened intensity.
Bulaga said quarterback Aaron Rodgers has made some checks at the line of scrimmage that haven’t been formally reviewed in film sessions yet, so Bulaga goes over them with Evans either on the field or in the meeting room.
“This isn’t an easy offense to just jump into and feel totally comfortable,” Bulaga said. “You have to have been here for a little bit to have that kind of stuff click in your head and be able to process it in the two seconds before the ball is snapped.”
A polished veteran and six-time Pro Bowler like Evans has no trouble picking things up, but making those adjustments in a new system and getting in sync as a guard-tackle tandem doesn’t happen overnight.
“It comes with repetition. The more reps he and I can get together, the better it will be for us,” said Bulaga, adding his belief everything will feel smoother after a preseason game or two.
“We’ve both passed off certain stunts, seen looks and combo-blocked before. He’s done it with (Zach) Strief out in New Orleans for how many years, and I’ve done it with T.J., but it’s different doing it with different guys.”
Lang’s departure also left a leadership void in the offensive line room that Bulaga is filling in his own way as the longest-tenured Packers lineman. Not the most vocal, rah-rah player, the 2010 first-round pick lets his preparation and work ethic speak mostly for itself.
He’s also perfectly fine letting fellow tackle David Bakhtiari take the lead with the new “championship belt” competition.
Joking that Bakhtiari, as a single man without kids, doesn’t have more important issues to worry about (and resembles the former professional wrestler Mankind with his long hair), Bulaga nonetheless called the belt a “cool idea” that keeps the competitive juices flowing.
The competition got a little heated on Monday, with Bulaga and defensive lineman Dean Lowry getting into it briefly after a snap, but not much was said about it afterward.
Bulaga would prefer any talk to be about football, not emotions. That goes for the offensive line room as well, where Bulaga encourages dialogue to come from multiple directions.
“The way I’ve looked at it in that room, I want everybody to have a voice in it,” he said. “The starting five we have right now, these guys have played a lot of snaps. If somebody has something to say, just speak up and say it.
“There’s a lot of respect for what guys have done in that room.”
Packers' defensive line all business