Bryan Bulaga hopeful of returning from ankle injury in time for opener
GREEN BAY - The Green Bay Packers will be without right tackle Bryan Bulaga on Saturday night in Denver and it could affect the amount of time quarterback Aaron Rodgers plays.
Of course, the long-term and far more important concern is whether Bulaga will recover in time to play against Seattle on Sept. 10 in the regular-season opener. But for now, coach Mike McCarthy has to decide how much risk there is putting his franchise quarterback behind a second-year right tackle.
Bulaga, who limped off the field Wednesday after someone rolled into his ankle during a 9-on-7 practice drill, said Thursday he still was waiting on MRI results to find out the extent of the damage. He said X-rays were negative and he's hoping it's something he can work through before the opener.
"I don’t want to say what it is because I don’t have any results yet, but it’s not something that I’m overly concerned about as of right now," Bulaga said. "Obviously it sucks, it doesn’t feel great today, probably won’t feel great tomorrow, probably won’t feel great the next day.
"But I’m pretty sure I should be able to bounce back from it and get my body ready to go for the opener. That’s the goal, at least."
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Earlier, McCarthy said Bulaga would not play in the Broncos game and that an assessment on how much Rodgers would play wouldn't be made until Friday. The leading candidate to replace Bulaga is Kyle Murphy, who has worked at the No. 2 right tackle position all of camp.
“I mean, we’ll talk about it,” McCarthy said of limiting Rodgers. “Really, I want to make sure we get all the information and that’s really what today, the second half of today is about,"
Broncos coach Vance Joseph told the Denver Post that star outside linebacker Von Miller would make his exhibition season debut against the Packers, although he indicated he probably wouldn’t play very long. The Broncos will be without another top pass rusher, Derek Wolfe, because of an ankle injury.
Still, Denver’s defense is about pressure and McCarthy must decide whether he wants to put Rodgers behind center knowing he’ll have a guy who has played a total of four NFL snaps from scrimmage protecting his front side.
Another option would be to start Jason Spriggs, another second-year player who has been working mostly at left tackle. Spriggs has far more experience than Murphy — he played 276 snaps last year — but only 29 snaps at right tackle.
Plus, he has been struggling with his pass blocking both in games and practice.
Based on practice Wednesday, Murphy would be the starter ahead of Spriggs. He consistently went first as the two players rotated at the right tackle position and was on the right side with Spriggs on the left with the No. 2s.
“Really like where they’re at,” McCarthy said. “Looks like they’re taking that step in their second year. They’ve had good camps. I have confidence in both those guys. It’s a very healthy competition.”
Bulaga said the injury is especially unfortunate because he's still learning to play next to free agent guard Jahri Evans, who has replaced T.J. Lang at right guard. The No. 1 line will probably play its most snaps this summer in this game and traditionally the No. 1s don't play at all in the fourth exhibition game, so this is their last chance to play together before Seattle comes to town.
On the other hand, this is the kind of situation that might pop up during the regular season and it's important to know who the team can count on.
"Things are going to happen to guys," Bulaga said. "That’s the nature of the game. But the longer you can keep guys consistently starting together and taking reps at practice together, the better things are. So it’s a little unfortunate that this happened. It’s a part of the game, I guess."
McCarthy said his primary goal Saturday night wasn't necessarily to get the No. 1s more action than they got against Philadelphia and Washington. Rodgers has played only one series, but it was a 15-play, 75-yard touchdown drive against Washington that gave McCarthy a good look at his starting unit.
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McCarthy said his obligation to evaluate the entire team will play into how players are used.
“I have to try to create as many opportunities for our players,” he said. “To feel good about the one unit, you want to feel good about your whole football team. What I’m looking for is for us to make progress as a team. So, whether a certain group plays well or a position, it’s all part of it.
“The last two days have been very good practices. I felt we were able to get through the in-season schedule but also keep the training camp going with the extra combination drills, group drills, 9-on-7, 1-on-1s and I thought the quality of work was good.
“We have a good week of preparation going into Denver and it’s just like anything, you can prepare well as you’re building into the game, but you have to perform. My goal is to make sure the team takes a step forward as we did from Philadelphia to Washington and now doing it to Denver.”