With injuries piling up at an alarming rate, at least the Green Bay Packers can accommodate an injury to Mark Tauscher.
Coach Mike McCarthy said he doesn’t expect Tauscher to play this week with a sprained shoulder he suffered while blocking for an extra point against Detroit. Chances are, first-round pick Bryan Bulaga will make his first NFL start, though second-year lineman T.J. Lang is in the equation, as well.
Bulaga, who was drafted to eventually replace veteran left tackle Chad Clifton, worked at left tackle and left guard during training camp. When preparations for the regular-season opener began, Bulaga started taking reps at right tackle. Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said Bulaga has gotten “a lot of work” at both tackle positions over the last month.
“Every time I take a right tackle rep, I get more comfortable,” said Bulaga, a two-year starter at left tackle at Iowa. “That’s really the one thing. Getting down in a right-hand stance and run-blocking, that’s OK. It’s really getting the pass set down, kicking out, sliding out, that’s a big difference.”
Pass protection, of course, is critical and is an area where Tauscher has struggled, with his two sacks allowed in four games matching his total in eight games in 2009 and 13 games in 2008. The Redskins run a 3-4 defense. Like the Packers do with their outside linebackers, Washington flip-flips Brian Orakpo (two sacks this year after an NFL rookie-high 11 last year) and Andre Carter (one sack this year and 64.5 in a 10-year career).
“I’m confident in him,” Philbin said. “He’s a very serious guy. Takes his job responsibility seriously, practicing well. We’ll see what the future brings.”
Lang started three games last year (two at left tackle and one at right tackle) but offseason wrist surgery torpedoed any chance he had of challenging Tauscher at right tackle because he was held out of all of the offseason practices. He hasn’t been on the 45-man gameday roster all season, with McCarthy calling Lang the 46th man.
“I think he’s coming around a little, moving better,” Philbin said. “Sometimes, it’s hard, and I’m bad at it — I sometimes rush to judgment a little bit and I know I was a little bit concerned about where he was right when camp started. He didn’t have a lot of quickness, then obviously the rust from a technique standpoint, some of that was evident. But I think he’s in better football shape. He hadn’t played since the previous January. I think he’s looking better and better.”
Lang agreed with Philbin’s assessment and said the injury, rust and lack of explosiveness are all history.
“Obviously, I missed the whole offseason,” he said. “From an offensive lineman’s perspective, football shape and running shape are two completely different things. I was a little bit behind in training camp and I probably wasn’t in the best football shape that I needed to be in. I was still nursing the wrist a little bit, even though it had been a while since surgery. Still, it was my first time with full contact since the surgery. I was a little hesitant, and I think that showed. I was a step behind. Then came a day when it all started clicking again and the technique started feeling good.”
At least the Packers have good options, with Bulaga and Lang considered the future at left and right tackle.
“I’m a competitive guy and I definitely want to get on the field,” Lang said. “But I also understand the nature of the business. Bryan’s been doing a fantastic job for us. We’ve been competing and I’ve been competing with the guys. Yeah, it’s been tough but I haven’t let it get me down. The only thing I can do is control what I can control, and that’s my attitude and my effort, and that hasn’t changed since Day 1. I’m a competitive guy and I’m going to keep competing. When my chance comes, I’ll be ready for it.”
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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 and Facebook under Bill Huber.