Packers tackle Bryan Bulaga out for season with knee injury
GREEN BAY - The Green Bay Packers began Monday’s game against the Detroit Lions with their starting offensive line intact for just the second time all season. And now, after a serious injury for right tackle Bryan Bulaga, it will not happen again in 2017.
Bulaga dropped out of the game in the fourth quarter and will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury, according to coach Mike McCarthy. Bulaga limped heavily on his way to the bench and was later carted to the locker room after a brief evaluation on the sideline. The Packers ruled him out almost immediately, and a report from NFL Network said Bulaga tore the ACL in his right knee.
“I have bad news on Bryan Bulaga,” McCarthy said Tuesday. “It’s very unfortunate. He will be lost for the season with his knee injury. He’s had a stretch of bad luck this year. It started with the ankle injury there in training camp. I feel bad for him. I thought he had clearly come off his best season last year. Tough news today.”
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The injury to Bulaga continues an unfortunate rash of problems for a player the Packers rewarded with a five-year, $33.75 million contract in the spring of 2015. Bulaga tore the ACL in his left knee during a training-camp practice in 2013, costing him the entire season, and underwent another surgery on the left knee after tearing cartilage in 2015, missing three more games.
Bulaga already had been sidelined three games in 2017 with the aforementioned ankle injury before reportedly tearing his ACL against the Lions. He also suffered a concussion earlier this season that did not cost him any playing time.
Without Bulaga, the Packers turned once again to Justin McCray to finish Monday’s game. McCray, who played in the Arena Football League before signing with the Packers during the offseason, received lofty praise from McCarthy last week as a player in the heart of MVP consideration if the team issued an award for the first half of the year. McCray has been asked to fill both guard positions and both tackle spots during the regular season, and in training camp the coaches worked him at center, too.
As tackles Jason Spriggs (hamstring) and Kyle Murphy (ankle) were placed on injured reserve, it opened the door for McCray to inherit the utility role crucial for every offensive line. The coaches have tailored McCray’s reps in practice to reflect his wide range of responsibilities.
“They definitely make sure I get enough reps everywhere,” McCray said after the loss to Detroit. “Sometimes I stay after with (offensive line coach James) Campen to do some extra things, but I definitely feel comfortable wherever I get in at.
“(I) just go in there and work on the things we’ve been working on all week. Make sure that we don’t have a drop off when I get in there.”
But as the clock reached zeroes Monday, with the Packers handily beaten, McCray himself was no longer healthy. He was seen limping off the field under his own power with a member of the medical staff at his side, and the Packers announced it as an ankle injury.
McCray was in the facility Tuesday for treatment, according to McCarthy, and they will monitor his progress during the week.
“I’ll be fine,” McCray said after the game. “Everything is good.”
Moving forward, Campen and McCarthy have two realistic options to replace Bulaga at the right tackle spot. In addition to McCray, who has started multiple games this season, the Packers could turn to Spriggs, a former second-round pick. The Packers have used one of their two designated-to-return spots on Spriggs, who injured his hamstring in Week 1, and he will be eligible to play next week against the Baltimore Ravens.
The drop-off will be steep regardless of whom the Packers choose to fill Bulaga’s shoes long term.
Safety Morgan Burnett also will be unavailable for Sunday’s game against the Bears, according to McCarthy. Burnett dropped out of the game with a groin injury in the third quarter and did not return.
“I don’t have a timeline for you,” McCarthy said of Burnett’s status, “but he will not be available this week against Chicago.”