GREEN BAY – Ten years into his career, there isn’t much the NFL has to offer that veteran right tackle Bryan Bulaga has not seen.
He’s won a Super Bowl. He’s stayed home for January. He’s torn his ACL – in both knees. He’s survived a 16-game season unscathed.
Bulaga, among the five most experienced players in his locker room, finds it hard to be surprised anymore. Yet he’ll do something Monday and Tuesday he’s never done before, sharing his longtime practice field with another team. The Green Bay Packers will host the Houston Texans for a pair of joint practices, simulating the closet environment to an actual game without live snaps and 80,000 fans.
“To me personally,” Bulaga said, “it’s a little funky. You’re just going out there, and you’re going to line up and go. So that’s going to be a little bit different. You’ve got to adjust. You’ve just got to do it.”
Matt LaFleur, in his first camp as Packers head coach, said he chatted with Texans coach Bill O’Brien a couple of days in June before their two teams dispersed for summer vacation. Their practice schedule was part compromise, both narrowing their perspectives into one plan.
LaFleur said Monday’s practice is scheduled to be roughly two hours, 15 minutes. The two teams will “taper back a little bit” Tuesday before an off day Wednesday and their exhibition in Thursday’s preseason opener at Lambeau Field.
The Packers and Texans will compete in seven-on-seven drills as well as full 11-on-11. Offensive and defensive linemen from both teams will compete in one-on-one blocking/rushing drills. LaFleur said receivers and defensive backs will not compete in one-on-one drills.
“Just in my past, that’s usually where the stuff gets riled up,” LaFleur said, “and we’re trying to avoid fights.”
That can be a big concern when teams meet for joint practices. The friendly fire of teammates going against teammates is stripped away, increasing a practice’s intensity. Bulaga said he expects more of a “game tempo” in practice.
“I’m not saying our defense isn’t going at full speed,” Bulaga said, “but it’s different when you’re going against someone else, beside your own teammates. Obviously, there’s not going to be – the quarterbacks aren’t live, our own guys aren’t live, it’s still a controlled setting – but the tempo will be different. Let’s put it that way.”
On both sides of the ball, it’ll be interesting to see how the Packers fair competing against an unfamiliar opponent.
The Packers’ defense has been ahead of the offense early in camp, but that isn’t surprising. The defense is in its second year with coordinator Mike Pettine’s system. It’s competing against an offense only completing its second installation phase. With the Texans in town, the Packers will defend talented third-year quarterback Deshaun Watson, star receiver DeAndre Hopkins and an O’Brien offense in its fifth season.
Cornerback Tramon Williams isn’t new to joint practices. When Williams was with the Cleveland Browns, his team practiced at the Buffalo Bills. (The Browns took a pleasant, four-hour train ride, Williams said.) The atmosphere falls short of a Sunday afternoon, but Williams said it’s plenty competitive.
“It’s a little bit more intense,” Williams said. “Obviously, you’re playing against different guys, different opponents, but at the same time you get a chance to know some of those guys. It’s a brotherhood at the same time, but we obviously know when the bullets start flying on Sunday, you’ve got your team, I’ve got mine. But it’s going to be fun, man. It’s an understood practice, but it’ll be intense.”
The Packers’ offense will get a reprieve from facing a defense every day that not only is further along in its scheme, but also familiar with the plays it’s defending. Given that experience and familiarity, it’s difficult at times to evaluate just what to make of LaFleur’s offense. If the Packers struggle mightily against the Texans, who know little about the Packers or LaFleur, it could be more alarming.
That’s not to suggest the Texans' defense lacks talent. Quite contrary, their unit is anchored by five-time All-Pro J.J. Watt. Jadeveon Clowney, who is holding out, has not yet reported to camp, but the Texans also have Benardrick McKinney and Whitney Mercilus in their linebacking core and a talented secondary.
“I’m hoping for a clean couple days,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “No fights, no cheap shots and stuff like that. The difference is we’ve gone against our defense for a number of days now, so we’ll see some different looks.”