The Green Bay Packers’ offensive line might return to full strength sooner than originally anticipated. In a surprising admission, Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy revealed during his Thursday press conference that injured right tackle Bryan Bulaga appears on track to return for the start of the regular season.
Bulaga suffered a torn ACL in his right knee last November, ending his season after just nine weeks. The veteran offensive lineman previously tore the same ligament in his left knee, costing him the entire 2013 season. Given his injury history and the timing of his latest ailment, it seemed unlikely that Bulaga could return in time for the 2018 season opener, especially after Green Bay placed him on the physically unable to perform list to open training camp.
While the Packers still have to prepare in case Bulaga cannot suit up, Bulaga’s progress apparently suggests for the first time that the offensive line will feature all of their preferred starters to start the season. If so, that means the offense has only one genuine starting position to fill in advance of Green Bay’s Week 1 tilt with the Chicago Bears.
Though the Packers made multiple significant moves on offense since the end of 2017, most of the unit appears set for the upcoming year. Davante Adams and Randall Cobb will serve as the primary wideouts, with Geronimo Allison penciled in as the No. 3. The team’s trio of receiver draft picks as well as some returning youngsters should compete for Allison’s role, though that could take much longer than the preseason. Even Adams opened his rookie season behind the pedestrian Jarrett Boykin.
Elsewhere, Jimmy Graham arrived in free agency to start at tight end with fellow offseason acquisition Marcedes Lewis likely to receive most of the backup and blocking work. The battle between veteran Lance Kendricks and second-year man Emanuel Byrd could grow fierce, but that won’t affect the starters.
In the backfield, Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams would have dueled for the right to start at running back, but the former will miss the first two games of 2018 due to suspension. Perhaps Ty Montgomery inserts himself into the competition, but his injury history and positional versatility suggest that he’ll remain a gadget player on offense rather than a true starter at any one position.
Injuries could open up positions at any time. But if that element doesn’t come into play, only right guard remains the only real Week 1 vacancy for the Packers offense.
While the competition at right guard could drag well into the preseason -- Justin McCray, Lucas Patrick, Cole Madison, and others have a viable shot to win the starting job -- that leaves few question marks for an offense that struggled through much of 2017.
If, of course, Bulaga can return for the season opener.