Bulaga moves to his right
Packers coaches have been cross-training Bulaga at both positions in training camp. And with veteran Chad Clifton still entrenched at tackle, the No. 23 overall draft pick out of Iowa could be in the mix to win a starting job at guard.
Bulaga said learning a new position is challenging, but the possibility of getting on the field as a rookie is exciting.
“Like I’ve said this entire time, none of these guys come here to play behind someone,” Bulaga said. “Everyone wants to be on the field and play. That’s what makes a team great, is guys push each other to get competition. It feels good to have an opportunity to get on the field and win a job, and if I don’t, then I wasn’t the best guy for the spot.”
Bulaga said Thursday that he doesn’t yet know how coaches will balance his work load between tackle and guard in Saturday’s preseason game at Seattle.
For now, he’s more concerned with trying to “improve on all the things I did wrong” in the Packers’ first preseason game against Cleveland.
“Every game in these preseason games, I kind of have to earn that confidence and gain that comfortable level they need to have putting a guy in the game,” Bulaga said. “That’s why these preseason games are so important.”
Packers general manager Ted Thompson said Bulaga’s move to guard isn’t permanent.
“Obviously, we’re looking at him long-term as a tackle,” Thompson said. “At the same time, we want to try to make sure we get him trained for some other things.”
Cross-training offensive linemen at several positions has been common in Green Bay under head coach Mike McCarthy, although McCarthy acknowledged in April that the team might have taken that too far in the past.
“You have to have the ability to move offensive linemen around,” he said after the NFL draft. “It happens every year, especially when you get down to the 53 (man roster) and when you are getting ready to play games with the 45. With that said, you like to work from developing younger players in one or two positions instead of two or three, like we have had the past couple of years.”
Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said allowing Bulaga to compete at guard is consistent with the coaches’ philosophy of trying to get as many of their best players on the field as possible.
“This is a win-immediately (league). People want gratification just like a baby does,” Philbin said. “Yeah, we’re just looking to find that right combination, which we’ve attempted to do at all times. So we’ll have to see how it all shakes out.”
Philbin said Bulaga has shown a good understanding of the offense so far, with good athleticism and strength. Now he needs to prove that he can play quickly and decisively – especially at guard.
“Things happen a little faster in there,” Philbin said. “So mentally, he’s got to process some things. I think there’s going to be a little bit of a curve there, obviously, because the new things he’s seeing defensively just as a rookie player and positionally as he adjusts inside. He’s off to a very good start.”
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said Bulaga has improved since offseason drills.
“A lot of people were questioning, maybe not negatively, but uncertain about how he would look after the spring,” Rodgers said. “I got a lot of questions from back home about how Bryan was doing, and my comment to them, and I think to you guys at times (was), ’Let’s just wait and see what he does in pads.”’
Once that happened, Rodgers said Bulaga had a better chance to show off his physical style.
Rodgers said Bulaga has an advantage because he’ll be lining up next to left guard Daryn Colledge or center Scott Wells. While Colledge has been criticized for uneven play – and could even end up getting beaten out for the starting left guard job by Bulaga – Rodgers said Colledge is “maybe our smartest lineman.”
Bulaga calls Colledge a “great player,” and said their push for playing time will make the entire offensive line better. And even if Bulaga doesn’t win a starting job, he figures the experience still will help his development.
“It can help me learn what everyone else on the offensive line’s doing if you know the guard position, and an opportunity to get on the field and learn a couple different positions,” Bulaga said. “That’s always going to help. So yeah, it’s exciting.”
Bigby doubtful for opener
Packers safety Atari Bigby will miss at least four weeks after having ankle surgery earlier this month, putting his availability in doubt for the team’s season opener at Philadelphia.
Bigby says it would be “very disappointing” to start the season on the team’s physically unable to perform list. He is expected to be out 4 to 8 weeks, so even if he makes it back quickly, he still would have little time to get ready for the Sept. 12 opener.
Bigby had surgery on his troublesome left ankle Aug. 6. If he begins the season on the physically unable to perform list, he would miss the first six weeks of the season.
Harrell misses practice
Packers defensive lineman Justin Harrell was absent from practice again, but it didn’t have anything to do with his lingering back injury.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Harrell was excused from Thursday morning’s practice because of a “personal matter,” and would have been able to participate if he was present.
Defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said Harrell’s wife had a baby, delivering via an emergency cesarean section.
The oft-injured Harrell, the team’s first-round pick in 2007, has played only six games over the past two seasons because of back issues. Harrell was having a productive training camp until this week, when his back tightened up.