Before the hip injury, Bulaga was considered one of the best young right tackles in the game, or maybe even one of the best young tackles in the league, period. With his first start in 22 months just days away, is Bulaga back to that lofty level?
“To me, that’s not for me to decide,” Bulaga said after Monday’s practice. “I don’t say I’m this or I’m that. I don’t know who makes that decision. I only really care about what my teammates and my coaches think about me. Whatever they have to say about me is what I take from how I’m performing.”
So, offensive line coach James Campen, is Bulaga back to his pre-injury form?
“Is he back? Oh, yeah, he’s a better player than he was then,” Campen said.
“He’s stronger, he’s bigger,” Campen continued. “His attention to detail has always been there. He’s very quick to critique himself, to analyze what he needs to get better at. He has improved every week — from training camp to last week, even though he did not play (against Kansas City). He’s a better player now than he was then.”
Bulaga is regarded as one of the team’s hardest workers, which is what made the injuries so disappointing. Even after the hip injury in 2012, the coaching staff felt so good about Bulaga that they moved him to left tackle. He quickly settled into that position before the knee injury just a week into camp. Rather than pout, Bulaga doubled-down on his preparation.
“Football’s a physical sport. You kind of expect these kind of things,” he said. “If an injury happens, it obviously sucks. To have it two years in a row, it sucks. I never had that type of (“why me”) moment. It was just how fast could I bounce back and get going again. It was never a pity party. No one had one – my parents, my wife – nobody had one for me. The people I work with down in Florida, they didn’t have one for me, either. It was just how fast can you get back and get back to full strength and get back on the field, and that’s kind of the way I approached it day by day.”
Moved back to right tackle during the offseason, Bulaga quickly felt right back at home. In three preseason games, he didn’t allow so much as a pressure on a passing play. Now, after 22 months of pain, disappointment and preparation, he’ll return to the field against the Seahawks.
“It’s great to get back on the field for regular-season football, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “I’m excited about it. This is the best my body’s felt in a long time. I’m excited and ready to go. It’s going to be a great challenge.”
A great challenge, indeed, facing the Super Bowl champions’ indomitable defense at the NFL’s loudest stadium. When the Packers played at Seattle in Week 3 of 2012, the team yielded a staggering eight sacks in the first half alone. Chris Clemons, who lined up across from Bulaga for most of the game, tallied four of those sacks — though Bulaga was only charged for two of them.
“That’s clearly a great example of getting out of your fundamentals and things can snowball on you,” Campen said of the line play in general. “It was a lesson learned by the guys that were in there.”
Bulaga said he “feels confident” going into his first regular-season game in a long time. Despite two major injuries, he said his body feels good. He’s ready for this challenge, just like he was ready for the challenges with the hip and knee.
“I’m proud as heck of him,” Campen said. “Shoot, you come off of that and then get nailed with something two years in a row and you come back (early in camp) and you’re performing back to the level you were playing, and now you’re exceeding those levels. Heck, yeah, I’m proud of him. He’s a very, very good person, a good teammate, cares deeply about his team and he’s a true pro and he works his (butt) off. Very proud of what he’s accomplished so far.”
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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.