For the second time in two years, the Green Bay Packers saw one of their key players lost for the season early in training camp.
Last year, the Packers lost inside linebacker Desmond Bishop for the year (torn hamstring) in the first preseason game versus the San Diego Chargers.
This year, at the Family Night scrimmage of all things, the Packers lost left tackle Bryan Bulaga for the season apparently, due to a torn ACL. Bulaga is getting a second opinion to determine the severity of the injury.
In losing Bishop last year, the Packers lost their most physical defensive player, who was coming off his best season in the NFL. Even with his injury, the Packers were able to improve from being ranked 32nd in total defense in 2011 to 11th in total defense last season.
But the loss of Bishop was very apparent in the 45-31 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the playoffs last year, as the Niners had 579 total yards, including a whopping 323 yards on the ground.
This year, the Packers had made a major move regarding their offensive line by moving both Bulaga and guard Josh Sitton to the left side of the line, after playing their entire careers on the right side.
The move was made for a number of reasons.
One, the starting left tackle the last two seasons, Marshall Newhouse, had given up 24.5 sacks just by himself.
Secondly, the left side of the line is the blind side of quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers just happens to be the face of the Green Bay franchise and is the highest paid player in the NFL, thanks to his fantastic production the last few seasons.
Finally, the Packers saw Bulaga and Sitton as their two best offensive lineman.
But all those plans for 2013 are already compromised thanks to the injury to Bulaga. So, what to do now?
Head coach Mike McCarthy could play either Newhouse again at left tackle, or he could put rookie David Bakhtiari there, as he has had a very impressive start at training camp, both at left tackle and right tackle. Bakhtiari played both positions at Colorado in college.
If it was me, I would place Bakhtiari at left tackle, as McCarthy already knows about the track record of Newhouse at left tackle the past two seasons. Not only was Newhouse not reliable at times protecting Rodgers, he was also considered a soft run blocker.
Bakhtiari was considered a good run blocker at Colorado, and he did very well in pass protection as well. He is showing those same characteristics at camp this year.
If Bulaga had not been injured, it was starting to look like Bakhtiari was pulling ahead of Newhouse to become the starting right tackle. Now it looks like Newhouse will be the starter there, as second-year offensive lineman Andrew Datko has not been very effective so far in camp this summer, even though he appears to be healthy and stronger.
Don Barclay will also get a chance at right tackle, after being used mostly at guard and center at camp so far. Barclay started the last four games of the 2012 season at right tackle, and both games in the postseason.
The former West Virginia Mountaineer is considered a strong run-blocker, but has issues with edge rushers in the passing game.
The wild card in all of this is former first-round draft choice Derek Sherrod, who is currently on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list. Sherrod suffered a gruesome broken leg injury in his rookie year in 2011, when he fractured two bones. He has yet to get back on the field.
Sherrod had another medical procedure at the end of last season and the Packers expect him to get on the field at some point this year, hopefully before the end of training camp.
The other thing the Packers can do to offset the loss of Bulaga, is to run the ball more. The running game looked very good in the Family Night scrimmage, with rookie Eddie Lacy leading the way with 61 yards in just eight carries.
When the Packers drafted both Lacy and Johnathan Franklin in the 2013 NFL draft, they signaled that they planned on being more committed to the running game. That plan has to continue, especially with the injury to Bulaga.
The injury to Bulaga is a big loss for the Packers, no doubt. The good news is that it appears that general manager Ted Thompson made a nice selection in the draft in April when he picked Bakhtiari.
The Packers have had a history of starting rookies at offensive tackle. Both Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher ended up starting at left and right tackle in 2000, and both went on to have very productive careers.
In 2010, Bulaga started at right tackle as a rookie, after a shoulder injury shelved Tauscher.
Bottom line, the Packers have plenty of time to figure out what to do this training camp to counter the injury to Bulaga. It won't be an easy one to overcome, but the talent of Bakhtiari will make the process easier.
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