Bryan Bulaga

Can Bulaga play left tackle in the NFL?

As we sit around and wait for the second part of the NFL Draft to begin tonight, we thought it would be a good time to take a more in-depth look at the Green Bay Packers’ first-round selection, Bryan Bulaga.

As I mentioned yesterday, Bulaga isn’t the elite-level tackle prospect that Trent Williams, who went at No. 4 to the Washington Redskins, or Russell Okung, who went at No. 6 to the Seattle Seahawks, are. In all the instances that I’ve seen, Bulaga was rated the third or fourth best tackle in the draft – competing with Anthony Davis, who went at No. 11 to the San Francisco 49ers for that distinction. In most reputable scouts’ opinions, Bulaga was expected to be a mid-first round selection, so the Packers did indeed get lucky Bulaga fell to No. 23.

Not everything is rosy when it comes to Bulaga, though.

While Bulaga’s work ethic and technique haven’t come into question, some scouts have questioned whether he has all the physical tools to play left tackle in the NFL.

At the college level, Bulaga had trouble blocking elite speed rushers. Specifically, he was worked by Michigan’s Brandon Graham and Wisconsin’s O’Brien Schofield. When this was brought up to Packers’ GM Ted Thompson, he seemed caught off guard.

“No, I don’t think that’s any more … those are two pretty good college players, though. But yeah, he did, and that’s something, I don’t know. He did, he struggled against those guys.”

Thompson went on to say he isn’t concerned, but Bulaga clearly has some things to work on. It’s Bulaga’s shortcomings in pass protection that has some scouts questioning whether his best position is left tackle.

“He’s physical, he’s got great technique as a run player. I just don’t think he has the angles down, the footwork and the hands down, to be a prominent pass protector. I think he’s going to struggle,” one scout said.

Another scout suggested Bulaga would have to grow into the left tackle position.

“He can play (left tackle), I don’t think that’s the issue with him at all,” another scout said. “But if you were going to place him someplace ideal where he could step in right away and have success now, that probably would be the best spot for him is right tackle.”

Thompson suggested the Packers will line Bulaga up at one of the tackle spots to start, but may end up moving him.

“It’s my understanding we’re going to put him at tackle. Whether it’s left or right or whatever, we’ll figure that out as we go along, but he’s going to be a good guy to add to our group.”

Another knock on Bulaga is his arms (33 inches) aren’t as long as you’d like to see for a left tackle at the NFL level, something he addressed after being selected.

“I think when it comes down to it, you have to put it on the tape and watch the guy play football. You can pick and choose on that but it’s a game of technique and it’s whoever plays the most efficient with that, I think is going to help out. I think I do that very well.”

“I pride myself on being a technician and I think being skilled in that aspect will help me out with my short reach, so to speak.”

Bulaga’s selection could ultimately affect three positions on the Packers’ offensive line, depending on where he plays.

If Bulaga is given a proper shot at left tackle, he will battle Chad Clifton for the starting job. If this scenario plays out, we’d expect Clifton to open the season as the starter with an eye towards Bulaga eventually replacing him.

However, the Packers may well decide to give Bulaga a crack at the right tackle spot, which he could conceivably win this year. His main competition would be Mark Tauscher, but second-year man T.J. Lang is also in the mix. Like Bulaga, Lang played left tackle in college, but is now considered a better fit for right tackle or one of the guard positions.

If Bulaga and Tauscher battle it out at right guard, expect Lang to be moved inside. The obvious spot for Lang, who should crack the starting lineup this season, is left guard, which is another crowded position. Jason Spitz and Daryn Colledge are slated to battle it out for the starting nod.

What’s clear with Bulaga’s addition is the Packers have an abundance of offensive linemen. What they still may not have is a clear-cut successor to Chad Clifton at left tackle.

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