Bryan Bulaga was grateful to spend the final moments of Saturday night's Family Night event watching the post-practice fireworks outside with family and friends rather than inside a trainer's room.
There wasn't much to celebrate two years ago when the Green Bay Packers right tackle tore his anterior cruciate ligament during the annual event inside Lambeau Field, requiring season-ending knee surgery.
Last year, the Packers shifted the format from a scrimmage to a practice. Coach Mike McCarthy insists it was for the sake of team preparation – Saturday marked their eighth and final install – but doubtless he won't mind if the byproduct is a healthier football team.
Bulaga certainly won't argue. He's made it through the past two Family Nights scot-free. In 2014, the 6-foot-5, 314-pound tackle bounced back with his best NFL season, starting 17 of the Packers' 18 games (including playoffs).
"Yeah, it's good to see – from what we know – everyone healthy," Bulaga said. "I know last year was a big mental hurdle for me on this night. I think every time I come back out here on Family Night it will be a little bit of a mental battle with myself. Just get out here and compete and have fun and stay healthy. That's really, when I look at Family Night, that's how I look at it."
Despite the change in format, last year's Family Night practice had one infamous moment when rookie tight end Colt Lyerla tried to hurdle cornerback Jumal Rolle, tearing his MCL and PCL in the process. The Packers reached an injury settlement with the former Oregon standout a few weeks later.
The Packers had one player, rookie receiver Javess Blue, taken to the locker room on Saturday following a sideline collision with Packers entertainment manager Kandi Goltz. He exited favoring his left arm, but Packers coach Mike McCarthy had no update on his condition after practice concluded.
Otherwise, the rest of the team appeared to come through unscathed. The Packers were smart with certain players' reps, including running back Eddie Lacy who took only one rep in team periods.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw six passes in team periods before he and the starting offense gave way to backup Scott Tolzien and the second-team unit during the final two-minute period.
"It's a win every single practice when you walk off the field and you don't have a major injury," McCarthy said. "And that's really how I view it. Injuries are a part of the game, you do everything you can from a risk-assessment focus to try to minimize those big injuries. Because the big injuries obviously change things – change starting lineups, change opportunities and maybe even change your direction."
The Packers have two more practices on Monday and Tuesday before traveling for Thursday's preseason opener against New England. With Family Night behind him, Bulaga is looking forward to getting a few reps against a different colored jersey.
"Yeah, hitting the same guys over and over again gets a little boring," Bulaga said. "They know you, you know them but you need the work. Yeah, ready to get it going."
By the numbers
- Tim Masthay and Cody Mandell took their punting competition inside Lambeau Field for the first time on Saturday night.
Masthay averaged 41.3 yards on his three punts with a 4.58-second hang time compared to Mandell's 35.3 with 4.67.
- Rodgers went 3-for-6 in competitive team periods, including one interception by safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix on a deep ball intended for Davante Adams. Tolzien had his first pass picked off by cornerback Tay Glover-Wright before completing 6-of-11 passes. Matt Blanchard went 1-for-4 and Brett Hundley was 0-for-2.
- Depleted by injury on the edge, starting inside linebacker Sam Barrington took one rep outside during the team's pass-under-pressure period.
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