Bryan Bulaga, an All-American at Iowa, was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the first round in 2010 to be the heir to longtime stalwart Chad Clifton at left tackle.
Bulaga’s finally getting that chance, with coach Mike McCarthy breaking the news to him on Monday.
“I was excited about it,” he told Packer Report on Saturday afternoon. “Obviously, I didn’t know that this was going to happen. This was just something that was brought to my attention. I was excited about it and very thankful for the opportunity, and I’m just excited to get going with it. I’m happy that in these IPWs (individual player workouts) and OTAs (organized team activities) that we can — me and Josh (Sitton) and Marshall (Newhouse) and T.J. (Lang) can get our footwork down and get used to the position switch. I’m very thankful that (McCarthy) did it early so we can get used to things reversed, with right to left and left to right.”
Bulaga played left guard as a freshman at Iowa before playing left tackle as a sophomore and junior. As a rookie, he competed for the starting job at left guard and opened the season as the No. 1 backup at left guard and left tackle. In Week 2, he replaced an ailing Clifton at left tackle. A few weeks later, veteran right tackle Mark Tauscher went down with a shoulder injury. Bulaga had been at right tackle ever since, until going through workouts at left tackle this week.
“I don’t know if it feels foreign. It’s definitely something that you get used to,” Bulaga said. “It’s just a matter of getting that muscle memory back and pushing off the right leg and getting your hands set in a left-handed stance. That’s all stuff that comes with repetition.”
Left tackle is considered the premier position on the offensive line and is practically a skill position. For evidence, look no further than last week’s draft, when left tackles went with the first, second and fourth picks.
“I really don’t look at it that way,” Bulaga said. “I’ve played right tackle for three years and I heard that question many a times. I think both positions are important. Especially in the offense that we run, I think both tackles have to be very good pass blockers. I just look at it as Coach McCarthy wanting to make a switch and flip guys around. I’m happy that I got moved over to the left side. I’m thankful for it and it’s a good opportunity. I know all the talk that goes around — like you said about playing left tackle and it being a premier position and all of that — but I don’t look at it that way. I just look at it as playing a new position and doing the best I can.”
Left tackles also are paid at a premium — a not insignificant fact with Bulaga entering the final year of his rookie deal. Bulaga said money wasn’t a concern, and that he just needs to play “good football” for the good of the team.
While pass protection obviously is paramount as Aaron Rodgers’ blind-side protector and the man facing most teams’ best pass rusher, the move has as much to do with the team’s increased emphasis on the run game. McCarthy emphasized the running game down the stretch last season, general manager Ted Thompson provided two top running backs in the draft and, now, Bulaga provides a big upgrade over Newhouse as a run blocker.
“I think that’s going to be a big deal this offseason and OTAs and the minicamp and training camp. It’s going to be a big emphasis,” Bulaga said of the running game. “We obviously need to be better in that category. Everybody’s comfortable with the running backs we have in house, and obviously we did draft two guys. I think everybody’s excited the way the run game is going. I think everybody is anxious to start doing it in training camp because, obviously, there’s no contact in OTAs and whatnot. I think everybody’s excited to get going and we know it needs to be a major emphasis to help out the offense and help out Aaron to make sure that not everything is just him throwing the football. We need to be able to help him out running the ball and getting positive yards that way.”
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.