Packers right tackle Bryan Bulaga is having an outstanding season through seven games. The 30-year-old Iowa alum has yet to allow a sack this season and continues to do an excellent job opening holes in the running game for Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams and protecting Aaron Rodgers when he drops back to pass. In fact, the nine-year veteran may be enjoying the best season of his NFL career.
Bulaga’s strong play should not come as a surprise. He has been a very good player for the Packers since his rookie campaign of 2010. That makes him one of just four players on the current roster who won a Super Bowl with Green Bay (the others are Rodgers, kicker Mason Crosby and cornerback Tramon Williams). For Bulaga, the biggest issue has been staying healthy. He missed two games last year and 11 games in 2017 due to assorted injuries. This season, Bulaga has been listed on the injury report several times, but he’s played every game and played at a very high level despite the assorted nagging hurts.
“That’s the kind of toughness you just can’t teach,” Rodgers said. “Either you’ve got it, or you don’t. He’s had it for years and dealt with some tough injuries over the years. It’s nice seeing ‘75’ out there. I think his grumpy nature sometimes is also what makes him so tough, because he has such high expectations for himself to be on the field and play and play through pain, and he’s backed that up his entire career, doing that year after year. I give him a lot of credit for that.”
This season, Bulaga has faced some pretty tough opponents. He’s already gone up against Khalil Mack of the Bears, Danielle Hunter of Minnesota, Von Miller of Denver, Brandon Graham of the Eagles and DeMarcus Lawrence of the Cowboys, a very talented group of pass rushers with plenty of sacks and Pro Bowls to their credit.
Bulaga admits that staying healthy is important to his performance. “When you feel like you don’t have any limitations moving laterally or forward, you can redirect and react and do all the things that you need to do against these top-level guys,” Bulaga said. “They’re already way more athletic than us, we’ll just put in that way. They move better than us. They’re better athletes than us. If you’re hurt and you’re going out there and you’re going against those top-level guys, yeah, you’re going to be at a little bit of a disadvantage just stepping on the field. Being as healthy as possible definitely is a big factor.”
Although he’s seen it all on the football field during his nine-year career, Bulaga never stops trying to improve. “For me, every week’s a new challenge. Every week, especially this year, we’re going against someone who can ruin my day real quick,” Bulaga admitted. “Every guy has the potential to beat you on every play if you’re not dialed in, tuned in, thinking about the right things, studying and doing all that. For me, it’s take this thing one week at a time and prepare and try to improve every day and work on something that you weren’t comfortable doing the day before.”
Although offensive linemen don’t typically have as many stats as the so-called “skill positions,” Bulaga’s play has been impressive. Pro Football Focus noted earlier this week:
Rodgers has had Bulaga protecting him for nearly a decade now and he likes having number 75 blocking for him. “He’s tough, he’s smart. He understands his strengths really well,” Rodgers said. “He understands the offense exceptionally. He’s just a heady player who’s so smart and tough and reliable when he’s out there playing tackle for us.”
Bulaga’s fellow offensive linemen also appreciate what he brings to the table. “Yeah, it’s definitely up there,” Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari told reporters when asked about Bulaga’s play this season. “I think what makes it a little bit more noticeable is the fact the premier rushers week-in and week-out, normally over five weeks you may see one or two. But to get five straight, he kind of does what he does. It doesn’t really matter the name, he’s going to put them in his wheelhouse and not really let them get much for 60 minutes.”
This is the last year of Bulaga’s current contract. He knows that the Packers practice has usually been not to re-sign most players at his age, especially offensive linemen. Quality linemen like T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton were allowed to sign elsewhere when their contracts ran out. Other players at or approaching 30 who were not re-signed include Clay Matthews, Morgan Burnett, Micah Hyde, Sam Shields and Randall Cobb.
Whether GM Brian Gutekunst decides to offer Bulaga a new deal after this season remains to be seen. But one thing is certain right now: Bulaga is doing all he can to make his case for staying in Green Bay.
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