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Mike Vandermause column: Battle-tested Bulaga ready for next challenge

Jun. 1, 2013
 
Two years ago, Bryan Bulaga became the youngest starter in Super Bowl history at 21 years, 322 days. H. Marc Larson/Press-Gazette Media
Two years ago, Bryan Bulaga became the youngest starter in Super Bowl history at 21 years, 322 days. H. Marc Larson/Press-Gazette Media

Nothing seems to rattle Green Bay Packers offensive lineman Bryan Bulaga.

The 314-pound tackle is unshakeable, no matter what you throw at him.

Two years ago at age 21, Bulaga became the youngest starter in Super Bowl history. When Mark Tauscher went down with an injury that season, Bulaga was a raw rookie that filled the gap and helped the Packers win a championship.

Bulaga is about as even-keeled as they come. It would take an earthquake to make him flinch.

When the Packers instructed him to switch from the familiar left tackle position he played in college at Iowa to the other side of the line during his rookie season, Bulaga never batted an eye.

Now, more than two years later, the Packers told him to switch back to left tackle and assume the most important position on the line to protect quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ blind side.

Predictably, Bulaga followed his marching orders that came in April without question or complaint.

“They approached me, told me and that was that,” said Bulaga matter-of-factly.

“When they told me I was going to switch, (that) I was going to play left tackle, just do whatever I’m told that’s going to help the team. That’s kind of the way I operate.”

Coaches love players with that kind of attitude. Tell Bulaga to jump, and his first response is, “How high?”

He would run through a brick wall if the Packers asked him to, so why wouldn’t the team place him on the hot seat at left tackle, where he must keep the face of the franchise, Rodgers, upright and healthy?

“Bryan is very smart,” said Packers offensive line coach James Campen. “He’s very fundamentally sound.”

Packers coach Mike McCarthy called Bulaga and Josh Sitton, who also switched sides from right guard to left guard, the two most accomplished linemen on the team.

Bulaga appreciates the compliment, but like anything else, that’s not going to change his approach.

“I’m happy he thinks that way of me, but in my mind, I’ve got a lot I need to do … a lot of football I need to play to really earn that,” said Bulaga.

Whether it’s praise from his coach, or criticism from outside sources, Bulaga doesn’t waver. The knock against him coming out of college was that his arms were too short to play tackle in the NFL.

Bulaga found the negative scouting reports more humorous than bothersome, and has since proved those critics wrong.

But he doesn’t seem to need a chip on his shoulder to play well. Attempting to get better every day and following coaches’ orders are motivation enough.

As a rookie, he was perhaps driven more by a fear of failure than anything else.

“Tausch went down, and I stepped in,” said Bulaga.

“I just tried to do my best that year to make sure we kept things going, because we got hot late and we were playing well, so I didn’t want to be the young guy that messed anything up.”

According to STATS, Bulaga became the youngest player to start in the Super Bowl (21 years, 322 days) in the Packers’ 31-25 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Bulaga has played just one NFL game at left tackle and admits it will take some time to adjust.

“I’m excited about it and ready to take on the challenge,” he said. “It’s not an overnight, immediate deal, where one day I’m totally comfortable with this.”

But Campen said the transition is going well for both Bulaga and Sitton. “Every day it gets better and better,” said Campen.

Bulaga said there is a comfort level still having Sitton by his side, and the feeling is mutual.

“Playing next to somebody for so long, you build that chemistry, you build that friendship,” said Sitton. “You build that bond with a guy. You learn how to fit run blocks with somebody and … I’ve played next to a lot of tackles here, so I know how difficult it is to be thrown in with different people. It’s a big thing. I’m glad we moved together. Hopefully, we’ll kick some (expletive) with it.”

Bulaga said the fractured hip that ended his season in 2012 and landed him on injured reserve is fine. If he feels any added pressure at left tackle to keep Rodgers safe and sound, he isn’t letting on.

“I think that’s a responsibility on everybody, it’s just not me,” said Bulaga. “We’ve got four other guys on this line that are going to line up on the first Sunday and have that responsibility.

“We all have to play well. It’s our responsibility to protect him.”

With great responsibility comes great reward, and Bulaga could hit the financial jackpot when his contract expires following the 2014 season.

There are 20 NFL left tackles that earn an average salary of more than $5 million, with the highest at $12.86 million. Only nine right tackles earn more than $5 million, and the highest comes in at $7 million.

Not surprisingly, Bulaga said money has never been an issue.

“That’s not really even a thought process in my mind right now,” he said. “That is what it is. I’m just looking to go out there and play good football. That’s the bottom line.”

mvandermause@greenbaypressgazette.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeVandermause.

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