GREEN BAY – Bryan Bulaga isn’t sure where he’ll be playing when he returns to the Green Bay Packers’ offensive line next season, but the veteran tackle said Monday that he doesn’t really care.
He just wants to play again.
After missing the last season and a half – with a hip injury that ended his 2012 season after nine games and a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee that caused him to miss all of 2013 – Bulaga has had enough of life as a spectator.
So if the Packers want to keep David Bakhtiari, the rookie fourth-round pick who stepped in and had a solid season in Bulaga’s place, at left tackle and send Bulaga back to right tackle, that’s fine. Or, if they want Bulaga to play left tackle, as was the plan for this season when they shook up the offensive line during the offseason, that’d be great, too.
“That’s going to have to be something that Coach (Mike) McCarthy and everybody upstairs will have to evaluate,” Bulaga said as the Packers cleaned out their lockers Monday morning, following Sunday’s season-ending 23-20 NFC Wild Card Playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field. “Wherever they need me to play, I’ll play.”
Asked if it would be an adjustment to go back to right tackle, where he started as a rookie in 2010 and became the youngest starter in Super Bowl history, Bulaga replied, “If I had to, I don’t think so. I didn’t even get a full year at left tackle. More like two months. So I feel like I can go back and forth. But again, it’s too early to be even talking about that.”
Bulaga suffered the knee injury in the team’s Aug. 4 Family Night Scrimmage and actually contemplated playing through it this season. He initially didn’t realize the severity of the injury – Bulaga finished the scrimmage that night at Lambeau Field – and then mulled trying to play with a brace. In the end, Packers team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie and Dr. James Andrews, the renowned orthopedic surgeon who did Bulaga’s surgery, convinced him that his season was over before it began.
“I think it was just an evaluation for a) what was the injury, and b) what was the severity of it. And then the next question was, what are the pros and cons of going with it and just having surgery done,” Bulaga explained. “It just kind of went back and forth on that and it came out that it was best to get the operation done.
“It’s difficult because it’s two years back-to-back. I got the first half of the season last year, and then to get put on IR two weeks into training camp, it’s just difficult. It’s difficult.”
Bulaga did his rehabilitation at IMG Academy in Florida and is now four months removed from surgery. He said he wouldn’t put a timeline on his return but said that being back for the opening day of training camp next summer was “a nice goal. But we’ll see.” If there’s any silver lining to his injury, it happened early enough in the year that he should be close to full strength by the season and may even be able to participate in organized team activities or the minicamp.
“If there’s ever a (good) time, I guess, that makes it even a full year is back into training camp,” Bulaga said. “There’s many different theories about when a timetable for the injury is. (Minnesota Vikings running back) Adrian Peterson did it in seven months or whatever he did it in. Every guy is different with this injury, so to know that I have a full calendar year which puts me back into about the second week of training camp is a positive.”
Bulaga said his rehab has “gone smooth so far” and that he hasn’t had any setbacks.
“We like where we’re at right now,” Bulaga said.
While in Florida, Bulaga got the NFL Sunday Ticket so he could watch the team’s games each week – “I always said I’d never buy it, but I actually did,” he said – which was easier for him than being at the facility on a daily basis and being reminded what he was missing.
“There’s really no limitations to what my training is. At this point, we’re past that,” Bulaga said of his offseason plans. “It’s just strengthening everything up, getting everything to where it needs to be. But limitations-wise, I mean, I’m going to do the same thing that I’ve done every offseason to get ready for a season.”
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