As he rehabbed from a torn ACL and prepped for the 2014 season, Bulaga worked out at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. IMG is a hot spot for players preparing for the NFL draft and veterans trying to find an edge in terms of speed and agility.
“You’ve got a lot of Combine guys, guys funneling in and out, but for the most part, I was one of the couple (offensive linemen) that were there,” Bulaga said this week. “A lot of skill guys — quarterbacks, things like that.”
Bulaga’s typically tireless work ethic and unorthodox approach have got him off to a strong start through the first week of training camp. Bulaga is the unquestioned starting right tackle and has performed as though he hasn’t missed the last 23 regular-season games due to the ACL, which was torn on Family Night last summer, and a broken hip, sustained against Arizona at midseason in 2012.
Some days, Bulaga worked alongside the fleet-footed receivers to improve his footwork and foot speed. Sometimes, he worked with IMG’s offensive line coach on line-focused drills. Sometimes, he went through both workouts in addition to his rehab.
“I did your normal speed and agility drills and movement drills that receivers were doing, but I also was doing offensive line-tailored work after my workouts and rehab. I kind of was able to knock out all three in one day or I’d do the offensive line work maybe three times a week and everything else four to five. I got a good mix of everything.”
Bulaga is listed at 314 pounds, the same as in past seasons and going back to his final season at Iowa. In reality, Bulaga cut a bunch of weight in order to gain weight. He got down to about 300 pounds. Now, he’s “up slightly” from his standard weight.
“We cut a lot of weight just to take stress off that knee when I (was) rehabbing, when I (was) running, when I was doing drills for rehab, just to keep weight off it,” Bulaga said. “Once I got to a point where I was totally comfortable and pain-free in the knee, then we started slowly putting the weight back on. It really just got to a point to where I had a number and once we hit that number and my body felt good with it, we just stayed there.”
Said offensive line coach James Campen: “All I know is he’s bigger and he’s a lot stronger, so that’s a good thing.”
Thanks in part ot the drills at IMG, Bulaga hasn’t been slowed a bit by the added weight. Bulaga is 6-1 in three days of one-on-one pass-protection drills, with five of those victories coming against three of the Packers’ best rushers: Julius Peppers (twice), Datone Jones (twice) and Clay Matthews. He has performed just as well during the team drills, including Saturday’s Family Night.
“To me,” Bulaga said, “it was, ‘What amount of weight could I put on where I still feel confident moving laterally in the run game and the pass game?’ I’m at the weight now where I’m very comfortable with it and feel like I can anchor down with it against bull-rushing-type D-ends and speed-to-power guys that take the edge and come in hard on bull rushes. I’ll be able to anchor down, sit down, and still be able move with that weight is what my goal was this offseason. I think we hit it and did a good job with the training, the eating, everything like that. It’s all part of the rehab process, too. You have to be smart with what you’re doing training-wise and how you’re pounding on your knee when you’re rehabbing it. You also have to get ready for football. It’s just not rehabbing a knee and going back into everyday life. You have to rehab to get ready to do this again; get ready for the grind of the season.”
This is a key season for Bulaga and the Packers, especially as Bulaga enters his final season under contract. In his first four seasons, he’s played in 37 of a possible 64 regular-season games. He missed four games in 2011 with two separate knee injuries, seven games in 2012 and all 16 in 2013. He’s gone from starting at right tackle to being penciled in as the starting left tackle to back at starting right tackle.
Not surprisingly, the contract is the furthest thing from Bulaga’s mind.
“You know, I really don’t think too deep into that type of stuff,” Bulaga said of the contract. “From that standpoint, I don’t handle those types of things. That’s two different people that are dealing with that end of the spectrum. I’m just playing football. I’m worried about improving throughout this training camp, making sure when we kick off Week 1 that I’m comfortable with doing my job. Everything else will take care of itself. I don’t look into that stuff. It’s out of my mind. It’s not there. I just worry about football.”
Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our free forums. Leave Bill a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.