"I think he can play left tackle, I certainly do. Absolutely," offensive line coach James Campen said on Monday.
We'll see if that optimism is well-founded, because Bulaga figures to replace ailing starter Chad Clifton for Monday night's early showdown at Chicago.
Clifton was replaced by Bulaga when the Packers' offense trotted onto the field with 5:59 remaining in the second quarter of Sunday's blowout victory over Buffalo. Clifton didn't suffer an injury but his 34-year-old knees were sore and were impacting his play too much for the tastes of the coaches.
"He didn't look healthy," coach Mike McCarthy said. "Chad has been having an issue with his knee, and we need to get him healthy. I thought it was affecting the way he was playing."
Clifton had surgeries on both knees (and both shoulders) following the 2008 season but didn't need any surgeries this past offseason. Like usual, the coaches took it easy on him during training camp, with Clifton limited to one practice a day during two-a-days. He was held out of the Friday practice before Week 1 to rest his knees. This past week, he was limited on Wednesday and Thursday and a full participant on Friday.
That his body has broken down so early has got to be a concern.
"You feel badly for a player," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "All of us, if we don't feel great, we probably aren't the same person at work. I think obviously physically, he's got some challenges that he's working through right now. That's tough for him. But I think obviously he's going to work through those. As I've said many times as a coach, you believe in the value of practice in terms of the preparation aspect, and hopefully you believe in the correlation between practice and performance on the field. And when you can't do that, for whatever reason, you have some concerns. But Chad's been through a similar situation — this isn't the first time we've dealt with the knee issue. It's something that hopefully will get resolved and he'll get back to feeling like himself."
Time and again, the coaches insisted that Clifton remains the starter and this isn't a changing of the guard.
"The medical staff has a lot of history with Chad, and when we get him to the point where we feel he's ready to go, he'll go," McCarthy said. "He's our starting left tackle. He's battling through a rough spot right now medically. We have Bryan Bulaga getting ready."
Bulaga had a solid debut other than being penalized for a false start. He didn't allow a quarterback hit or a sack against Buffalo. The play-calling wasn't changed to protect Bulaga on Sunday and it won't be if he lines up across from Julius Peppers at Chicago on Monday.
"He did a very good job for his first game in there," Campen said. "Didn't have any mental errors, things like that. it's an advantage, having someone like Daryn (Colledge) next to him who can help him, if he gets confused, but he didn't get confused by anything. He did a really good job his first time out."
Same formula in backfield
While the ball-carrying formula changed without Ryan Grant monopolizing the carries, the snap count remains about the same.
"Frankly, if you take the snaps the way we've played here in the past, it has been by committee," McCarthy said. "Now, whether the run game was not because Ryan Grant had the bulk of it, really our plan of how we utilize the running backs as far as how many plays they play in the game is very similar to our approach to the past. Now, Ryan Grant didn't play on third down all the time. Brandon Jackson does. I never had an intent and will not going further to see Brandon Jackson carry the ball 30 times in a game. Brandon also plays on third down and plays a lot in our sub packages. It's a long season. We're not trying to play one running back 55, 60 plays in the game and have the other two or three sit on the sideline. We've never played that way."
"I thought the run game was OK. Kind of consistent with what I said yesterday after the game," McCarthy said. "Particularly I thought the front-side blocking was where it needs to be. I think it can get a little cleaner, do a little better job on the backside, and when you get that coordinated I think that cleans it up for the backs. We missed some decisions. But I thought overall as far as the run-blocking unit and the running from the backs, we were just OK, solid."
— With the game on Monday, the team will practice on Thursday through Saturday rather than Wednesday through Friday. Other than Clifton, the team is pretty healthy. Linebacker Brad Jones may be limited on Thursday with a sore knee and safety Nick Collins could be limited on Thursday and possibly Friday with a hip flexor. Starting fullback Korey Hall (hip) and linebacker Desmond Bishop (hamstring) are question marks after being inactive for Buffalo.
— McCarthy regretted his replay challenge of James Jones' out-of-bounds catch. "It was a bad challenge. I should have never challenged it. The clock was running down. I got some advice that I shouldn't have taken, especially when the guy in my ear was telling me that he was out of bounds. So, it was a poor challenge, I shouldn't have challenged it. My intent was just to take the timeout. We were down to 6 seconds on the 40-second clock when I made the decision. I should have taken a timeout there."
— After a strong debut, Tim Masthay struggled against the Bills on his first two punts. "I thought yesterday he got a little long in his stride and as a result his drop was off on a couple punts," special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said. Echoing what he said on Sunday, Slocum said Masthay's 39-yard touchback in the fourth quarter should have been downed inside the 5 by either Jarrett Bush or Pat Lee.
— Ryan Grant told Milwaukee radio station WSSP that he'll have surgery on his ankle on Tuesday. He'll need two screws to reattach the tendon to the two bones that hold the ankle together.
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