Bulaga Looks Like a Home Run

Top pick Bryan Bulaga might not be a hit as a rookie but he has shown nothing to make the Packers think he won't have a successful career. "Nothing that I've seen that would say, ‘Boy, there's no way he can play (left tackle),'" offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said.

Bryan Bulaga already is a hit.

Not for the Green Bay Packers, of course. Taking batting practice before the Milwaukee Brewers' home game last Saturday, Bulaga — the Packers' first round pick out of Iowa — belted 14 home runs.

"I was just hoping I wouldn't whiff on too many of them," Bulaga said with a laugh after Wednesday's organized team activity.

While Bulaga is the Packers' future at left tackle, they would be perfectly happy if those hits are the highlight of the rookie's season. While veteran Chad Clifton was making a free-agent visit to Washington, the Packers and Clifton's agent struck a deal on a three-year contract. For 2010, at least, the Packers would prefer the soon-to-be 34-year-old Clifton handle arguably the second-most important position on the offense.

That means a lot of watching and a lot of learning for Bulaga. It's a mission he's embraced.

"He's very fundamentally sound and he's done it for a long time and he's still doing a good job at it," Bulaga said of Clifton. "He's a good guy and a hard worker, and he's fun to watch. I'm just impressed by the guy. Not much to be too disappointed about. He's a great player and a great guy."

More than a few professional scouts and, of course, the armchair pundits wondered if Bulaga had the ingredients to succeed at left tackle. By now, you've heard the knock: With short arms and good but not elite athleticism, could Bulaga handle the type of speed rushers he'd face weekly in the NFL?

It's early, but offensive coordinator Joe Philbin has no such concerns.

"Nothing that I've seen that would say, ‘Boy, there's no way he can play that position,'" Philbin said.

For all the pre- and post-draft talk about Bulaga's arm length, it's the footwork, intelligence and ability to bend that's the focus for Philbin, who rose to his current position after successful stints as the offensive line coach for Green Bay and Iowa, among other places.

"The way you teach pass protection — at least we do here — you've got to set first and you've got to take away the direct rush lane of the defender before you do anything else," he said. "The punch is the second part of the process. I think he's got good feet. He gets out of his stance well."

There might not be a bigger fan of Bulaga in the Packers' locker room than Daryn Colledge. The incumbent starter at left guard has spent parts of each of his four seasons in the NFL playing left tackle. Now, with his starting job on the line, Colledge can focus solely on left guard.

"Look at him, he's a physical specimen," Colledge said with a nod to Bulaga, who was stationed just a few lockers away. "He's our first-round pick. We expect huge things out of him. He's got a great opportunity. He's got one of the best left tackles in the (NFL) in front of him, teaching him how to play ball. He's bringing a lot of young, raw talent. He's going to be a great player."

With Clifton sitting out the 11-on-11 action on Wednesday, Bulaga settled in with the No. 1 offense. That meant getting to battle last year's rookie sensation, Clay Matthews III. These early battles have done nothing to shake Bulaga's confidence that he'll be a top left tackle — whether it's this year or in 2011 or 2012.

"Athletically, I feel fine," he said. "I think it's all adjusting to the speed of this game. There's a lot that goes with it. Recognizing things and picking up how fast these guys play. It's a different game from here to college. Once the vets came in, I figured that out quite quick. I think I'm doing a good job so far athletically. I've never been in a situation where I think, ‘Maybe I don't fit in in this area.'"

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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 packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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