Last offseason, the Green Bay Packers had some big changes in mind for the offensive line. Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang switched sides and Bryan Bulaga was to move from right tackle to left tackle. Unfortunately, the Packers never got to see the experiment through as Bulaga tore his ACL during the Family Night scrimmage and was lost for the season. Now with his career at a crossroads, the 2014 season is make or break for the former first-round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.
Bulaga’s injury was a cruel blow to him and the Packers. For one, the former Iowa standout missed a chance to prove he could play left tackle in the NFL, which would have meant a major pay raise once he hit free agency following the 2014 season. For Green Bay, it meant that the team had to turn to fourth-round rookie David Bakhtiari to play left tackle. The rookie played with incredible poise and is now a fixture on the left side.
Since Bulaga was drafted there have always been concerns about his ability to play left tackle. His arms are a little shorter than most left tackles and he does not quite have the athleticism of a left tackle, so if Bakhtiari can continue to improve on the left side, Bulaga can focus on the right side, where he has a chance to be a Pro Bowl player if he can just stay healthy.
After starting 12 straight games to end his rookie season, Bulaga became a full-time starter in 2011. Yet, he was only able to start 12 games and missed four games due to injury. The story was similar in 2012, when Bulaga was lost for the season after just nine games and of course in 2013, he missed the entire season. Over the past three seasons, he has started just 21 of 48 possible games. That is a problem and even though injuries are nobody’s fault, the Packers can’t continue to count on a player that can’t stay on the field.
There has never been a question about Bulaga’s ability. In fact, that is what makes his injury history so frustrating because he has already shown he is a Pro Bowl caliber player and would have been a huge asset for the Packers to have along the offensive line.
Even without Bulaga, the offensive line came into it’s own last season, particularly in the running game, where Green Bay finished seventh in the NFL in rushing yards and fifth in yards per carry. Yet, with Bulaga manning the right tackle spot instead of former undrafted free agent Don Barclay, the offensive line could be elite in the running game and would be in a much better position in terms of protecting all-world quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Bulaga has lost two important seasons in his quest to establish himself as a high-end starter and earn the big contract that comes with it. Green Bay would love to Bulaga in the fold long-term on the right side but before they can even think about a long-term deal, Bulaga has to prove he can stay healthy and that he’s the same player he was before the injury. If he can do that, the Packers offensive line will be among the best in the NFL and the former Hawkeye will be due a big payday this offseason.