Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE
It's been a disappointing season thus far for Bryan Bulaga, between his play and his recent injury. The Packers don't have much offensive line depth, but his loss shouldn't hurt much.
We're unlikely to know very much about Bryan Bulaga's injury status until a week from Wednesday, but early speculation is that there's a very good chance he won't be ready to play after the bye week. The Packers do not have a lot of depth on the offensive line with Derek Sherrod still out, but that doesn't mean they're going to end up reeling from Bulaga's loss.
It's no secret that this season's version of Bulaga has been far inferior to last year's. During the 2011 season, Bulaga was a rock and arguably the line's most consistent player when healthy. He showed serious improvement from his rookie season, and appeared to be a lock to appear in multiple Pro Bowls throughout his career. For some reason unbeknownst to lowly bloggers, his play has dropped off considerably this season, and he's hardly played like an NFL-caliber right tackle, much less a Pro Bowl-caliber one.
In the second quarter of Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals, Bulaga went down with a hip injury. Left guard T.J. Lang, who has played tackle both for the Packers and in college, moved to right tackle while all-interior backup Evan Dietrich-Smith came in at left guard. The team saw absolutely no drop-off in run blocking or pass protection after making this change.
Based on Lang's previous cameos at tackle and Dietrich-Smith's preseason performances, it wasn't a surprising development. I actually said that I expected the line play to improve when Bulaga went out, and I think I was right. At the very least, there was no noticeable drop-off.
While Lang lacks the pure power of Bulaga in the run game, his feet appear to be much better when pass blocking. During all of his snaps at right tackle, I only caught one play in which he was beaten badly while pass protecting. I didn't catch Dietrich-Smith getting beat pass blocking at all, and he did an excellent job on the rare occasion that he was asked to deal with Darnell Dockett.
The only noticeable difference between Lang and Dietrich-Smith was in the running game, specifically on stretch and other zone-blocking plays where Dietrich-Smith is asked to make a decision. He's a bit slower than Lang to decide who to block, and on a couple of occasions, he made the wrong decision, allowing the player who he should have blocked to make a play.
In this case, I am nit-picking almost for the sake of nit-picking. Yes, Dietrich-Smith needs to get better as a run blocker, especially in space, and yes, Lang does not have the pure power of Bulaga, but there were less mistakes with them in the game. For some reason, Bulaga's feet have looked off all year and he's been very error-prone. There were a handful of plays where Lang or Dietrich-Smith should have done a bit better than they did, but they made no terrible glaring errors.
As long as there isn't another injury on the line, we have no evidence to indicate that the Green Bay Packers offensive line isn't going to perform at least as well as they did when Bulaga was playing. Lang isn't any worse at right tackle than he is at left guard, and Dietrich-Smith is a very capable, NFL-caliber lineman. Bulaga should take as much time as he needs to get completely healthy, because at this moment, the Packers have absolutely nothing to worry about.