Packers right tackle Bryan Bulaga makes speedy return to practice
GREEN BAY - Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst should have known better.
Gutekunst spent the early part of the week creating contingencies in case the right knee injury that knocked right tackle Bryan Bulaga out of the San Francisco game was going to force him to miss a game.
He promoted tackle Yosh Nijman from the practice squad and signed Cody Conway to the practice squad Tuesday and claimed retired veteran tackle Jared Veldveer off waivers from New England on Wednesday.
So, after all that, there was Bulaga on Thursday taking part in the team’s Thanksgiving Day practice inside the Don Hutson Center.
Bulaga was taking part in all of the pre-practice drills, which is usually a good sign that he was going to take part in 11-on-11s. The Packers prohibit reporters from watching the team portion of practice, so it’s unclear whether Bulaga took reps with the No. 1 offense.
However, he did line up with the starters during early drills.
Coach Matt LaFleur was mulling his options early in the week as to what he would do if Bulaga couldn’t play, and he mentioned that he wouldn’t necessarily rule Bulaga out of the game against the New York Giants on Sunday. He was a limited participant in Thursday's practice.
"It’s something that we’ll wait and see throughout the week, but I thought he looked OK," LaFleur said. "He’s a pretty tough guy. I know if he’s able to go, he will."
This would not be the first time this season that Bulaga had been knocked out of a game and then made it back the following week.
He banged up his shoulder against Denver in Week 3 and then gutted through 50 snaps the following Thursday against Philadelphia before having to leave the game. The following week against Dallas he was back in the starting lineup and started the three games after that.
He dislocated his finger against Kansas City and missed the final 13 snaps, but he was back in the lineup the next week and had played every snap until injuring his knee on the ninth snap of the 49ers game. Bulaga was blocking when a player landed on the back of his leg, causing it to bend awkwardly.
Alex Light replaced Bulaga in the San Francisco game and struggled mightily, causing LaFleur to consider putting right guard Billy Turner at right tackle and inserting Lucas Patrick at right guard.
Nijman is considered a left tackle and isn’t ready to be a starter. Veldveer wasn’t at practice Thursday and it is believed he is still on the reserved/retired list. It’s unclear how soon the Packers must make a decision on whether to keep him there or activate him to the 53-man roster.
The Packers practice one more time before leaving for New Jersey on Saturday.
Rookie safety Darnell Savage was added to the injury report with a back issue, and he was a limited participant. Defensive back Will Redmond (foot) and tight end Jimmy Graham (calf), however, returned to action on a limited basis after missing Wednesday with a foot issue. Also limited were Tramon Williams (rest) and Davante Adams (toe).
Veldheeer on hold
The Packers’ waiver claim of Veldheer was processed by the league Wednesday with the note that the 32-year-old remains on the reserve/retired list – which means he doesn’t not count against the Packers’ roster limit.
He will be in Green Bay on Friday to take a physical.
The Packers are expected to be granted a roster exemption once he comes off the reserve/retired list, so Veldheer will be able to practice without a corresponding roster move.
When asked Thursday about Veldheer, LaFleur said he would save any comments until a roster move was made official.
Veldheer, who was waived by the New England earlier in the week, retired in March after signing a one-year deal with the Patriots citing hip issues. His agent tweeted Wednesday that he had unretired.
Having been through a whopping the size of the 49ers game just two weeks prior, Adams wasn’t about to overreact to it, especially given the team bounced back to beat Carolina after being dominated by the Los Angeles Chargers.
Adams said he’s aware there is a lot of consternation over the way the Packers lost, but he said he’s not buying into it.
“First of all, I mean, we didn’t just lose seven games in a row, so we can stop acting like it’s the end of the world, he said. “Obviously, we win that game and we put ourselves in a much better position and everybody’s happier, but let’s stop being dramatic.
“It was one game; it was a big game because it was the current game that we had, but at this point we’re just focused on the next opponent. We just want to move on from that. We’ve had so much success in this locker room to where we’re not going to be rattled by one game no matter who it is or where it was.”
In search of a tempo
In the two Packers’ losses the last three weeks in which the offense scored a total of 19 points on 119 total plays that accumulated just 382 yards of offense (3.2 yards per play), a myriad of factors can be applied to why. Heavy Rams and 49ers pass rushes. A combined 3-for-25 effort on third down. Aaron Jones touching the ball a total of 15 times.
Perhaps another reason for a lack of movement on offense has been a lack of tempo.
LaFleur and quarterback Aaron Rodgers felt some of that after the opening slog in Chicago and Rodgers donned a wristband with a list of calls for the first time in his career before Week 2 against Minnesota. Beginning that week, and until the 26-11 loss in L.A. on Nov. 3, the Packers went 6-1 and averaged 29.3 points per game and 396.4 yards of offense.
Rodgers addressed the lack of tempo of late, noting the long play calls, the run-pass checks and frequent personnel substitutions as potential reasons for it. LaFleur acknowledged as much after the loss in L.A. also, saying he had to be quicker with his calls and the sideline be more efficient in shuffling players on and off the field – but any larger overhauls in that regard will come in the offseason.
“Tempo’s something that we do talk about a good amount,” Rodgers said. “Just kind of depends on the plan and the way the flow’s going. It’s not my call. There was a time here when we ran almost exclusively in no-huddle, and that’s a lot of fun as a quarterback. Being under center more and having a lot more in the plan, we try and get to the stuff that we practice all week. I think there’s a lot of good stuff in there. We’ve just got to find that balance between maybe changing some tempo and still trying to run our stuff.”
Running a rhythmic offense quickly isn’t necessarily just about going no-huddle, but that is something LaFleur said in August is a “just in case” element to the current offense.
“If we think it’ll give us an advantage then we’ll use it,” he said in the preseason. “It’s a game-by-game basis.”
According to the analytics site www.SharpFootballStats.com, the Packers have run just 18 plays out of the no-huddle thus far in 2019, which is 30th in the NFL. Only Baltimore (17) and Kansas City (7) have run fewer plays out of it.
Rodgers is 8-for-11 with a rating of 78.6 while averaging 3.8 yards per attempt on his pass plays out of the no-huddle. On seven rushes, the Packers average 9.4 yards per carry.
The site began tracking no-huddle plays in 2016, and from 2016-18, the Packers were in the top 10 in the NFL in the number of plays run out of the no-huddle. In that window their high-water mark was in 2016 when they were seventh in the NFL with 160 plays run out of the no-huddle. Rodgers posted a 108.2 rating with 7.2 yards per attempt.
Regardless of whether more no-huddle is implemented or not LaFleur and Rodgers will continue to work through the mechanics of the calls and checks to make it more efficient, but there’s no sense of panic with getting the offense back in rhythm as they head to New York.
“You just have to let it come to you,” Adams said. “You make plays best in this league when you don’t force it, you just kind of go with what works. Something that’s been working for this team well is moving it around, separating it around to different guys, sharing the wealth; getting Aaron Jones involved, he’s obviously been a big part of our success this year. We just have to get back to doing that and we’ll win games.”