Return from Injury: Projecting OT Bryan Bulaga for 2013

Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE

Bryan Bulaga was quietly putting together a solid season in 2012 before suffering an injury in week 9. His return will mark many questions including when he can come back and what position he will play in 2013.

A first round pick is supposed to be an upgrade and eventually become part of the backbone of a team. Unfortunately this offseason the Packers have their last three first round picks healing from injuries which ended their 2012 season. It brings an unsettling undertone to the upcoming season wondering how each of these players will come back. We have already looked at the previous two first round picks, Nick Perry and Derek Sherrod, and now we turn to Bryan Bulaga.

2012 Season

Bulaga started the season slow after an impressive year in 2011. The low point for Bulaga was the Monday night game against the Seattle Seahawks where he gave up two sacks and three quarterback hits to Bruce Irvin in the first half. Bulaga was able to buckle down from this point on and started to quietly put together a nice season until suffering an injury against the Arizona Cardinals in week 9. As Kevin Seifert of ESPN’s NFC North Blog pointed out, he was ranked as one of the better offensive tackles in the league at the time he was injured and some football people considered him the Packers’ best offensive lineman.

2012 Replacements

The first alignment attempted to adjust to Bulaga’s injury was to move starting left guard T.J. Lang to right tackle and backup center/guard Evan Dietrich-Smith to left guard. Long story short this alignment was a total failure. Once upon a time Packers’ fans and coaches debated whether Lang was better suited for guard or right tackle, but it seems Lang’s time starting for Bulaga has ended the debate. In this alignment Lang struggled and EDS could not match the ability Lang brought to the guard position, leaving the Packers weaker at two points along the line.

In week 13 against the Minnesota Vikings Lang had to leave the game early, forcing the Packers to send in undrafted rookie Don Barclay. Barclay was able to perform better than expected and earned the starting right tackle spot for the rest of the year. Barclay was good enough the rest of the year allowing 5 sacks, 19 QB hurries, and 3 false starts. The emergence of Barclay allowed the Packers to move Lang back to left guard and EDS to take over for the disappointing Jeff Saturday at center. This gave the Packers an acceptable offensive line group and arguably their best starting five since Bulaga went down in the first place.

Recovery Outlook

Bulaga’s injury and his recovery outlook seem to have the widest range of opinions on this offseason. Some have heard that he has a hip injury and jump to the conclusion that his career may be in jeopardy, but Bulaga keeps assuring people that this view point is "exaggerated." First things first, we need to be particular about what Bulaga’s injury is before we look at the recover. Some worried that Bulaga suffered a dislocation of the hip. This is a much more serious injury and the injury suffered by Bo Jackson. The good news is that this is not what Bulaga has currently. According to reports Bulaga has suffered a "small fracture in the hip capsule where the femur rests." The prognosis for his return is excellent and all signs point to Bulaga being ready for training camp. This was the report in December, and thelast reports from January point to this not changing one bit.

2013 Roster Preview

For a long time the Packers have been content to keep Bulaga on the right side of the line, believing that he could become a premiere right tackle in the league, but this may change in 2013. In interviews this offseason coach McCarthy has vowed to improved the offensive line, which may include giving Bulaga a shot at moving to left tackle this summer. Either way, Bulaga will be a starter next year and the Packers continue to have high hopes for his play in the future.

Other return from injury posts:

ILB Desmond Bishop | OLB Nick Perry | ILB D.J. Smith | LT Derek Sherrod

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