Skip to main content

Bulaga Perhaps Clifton's Heir Apparent At LT

There weren’t many mock drafts that had Iowa left tackle Bryan Bulaga falling to the Green Bay Packers at the 23rd overall pick in the first round. - More Draft Page


There weren't many mock drafts that had Iowa left tackle Bryan Bulaga falling to the Green Bay Packers at the 23rd overall pick in the first round.

But when the 6-foot-5, 314-pounder with almost the prototypical body for the position was sitting there when General Manager Ted Thompson was on the clock, the potential heir apparent to veteran Chad Clifton as quarterback Aaron Rodgers' blindside protector was too good to pass up, even with some quality pass rushers and cornerbacks also there for the taking.

"We were a little surprised that Bryan was still available, and we felt like it was a very good value pick for us," Thompson said. "He's the real deal, I think."

Even though Thompson doesn't draft for need, it was clear with tackles Clifton and Mark Tauscher both entering their 11th seasons in 2010 that future considerations there would be in play during this draft. Last year's fourth-round pick, T.J. Lang, might eventually become Tauscher's successor, and it appears Bulaga will get the first chance behind Clifton.

An early entry in the draft, Bulaga earned Walter Camp as well as All-America honors from The Associated Press as a junior in 2009. He also was named first-team all-Big Ten and the Big Ten's offensive lineman of the year by the league's coaches, the third Iowa product to earn the award in the past decade, joining Robert Gallery (2003) and Eric Steinbach (2002).

"Their offensive linemen, even sometimes guys you don't rate as high, they come into the league and play, and they play well," Thompson said of Iowa's program. "We have coaches on our staff that have worked with Coach (Kirk) Ferentz and his staff and so we have a lot of information about this young man."

Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin coached both Gallery and Steinbach as Iowa's offensive line coach earlier in his career (1999-2002) and believes the Iowa pedigree does mean something, even for a player as young as Bulaga, who recently turned 21.

"I think he is a good fundamental player," Philbin said. "This guy wants to be good. Some of the techniques down there (at Iowa), I think those guys are very well-coached. When you throw the tape on of an Iowa football team ... those guys know what they are doing, and I think that will bode well for him. This guy is a quality player."

How soon he'll be good enough to step in for Clifton remains to be seen. But Clifton missed four games and parts of others with injuries last season, so there's also no telling exactly how soon Bulaga may be needed in the lineup.

In a perfect world, Bulaga will have plenty of time to learn the position and be groomed for a long-term assignment when he's fully ready. But there's no guarantee it will play out that way.

"If he is a backup left tackle, he is one snap away from being our starting tackle anyway," Philbin said. "I think we are anxious to get our hands on him. Everything we hear about him is that this is a guy that wants to be good, wants to compete, wants to play, but we're certainly not going to take a cautious approach with him."

Several mock drafts had the Packers taking an outside linebacker like TCU's Jerry Hughes or Texas' Sergio Kindle, or a cornerback like Boise State's Kyle Wilson. But those projections were made assuming Bulaga would be gone by No. 23.

He began his college career in 2007 at left guard but missed five games with a shoulder injury. He then moved to left tackle as a sophomore and allowed just 3" sacks in two years at the most important pass-blocking position.

His junior season was temporarily derailed by a severe bout with fatigue, which was eventually diagnosed as thyroiditis and sidelined him for three games. Thyroiditis is a viral infection that in Bulaga's case turned out to be a three-week bout that was corrected with medication.

After returning to the lineup, Bulaga struggled through two of his tougher games last season against a pair of the Big Ten's premier defensive ends in Michigan's Brandon Graham and Wisconsin's O'Brien Schofield.

Graham, drafted 13th overall by Philadelphia on Thursday night, recorded two sacks against him, the only two sacks he allowed all season. Meanwhile, Schofield got in the backfield twice for tackles for loss. But from then on, Bulaga was back in game shape and at his best the rest of the season.

{sportsad300}"I think the problems were just breakdowns in technique," Bulaga said. "I don't think that I felt that I couldn't keep up with them speed-wise or strength-wise. I thought it was just a breakdown in technique. I was coming off the thyroid deal where I didn't have a ton of reps in practice or even in game speed, so I thought it took me a while to get back to game speed. I wish I had another crack at those guys because I thought I would have made the most of it."

Bulaga certainly redeemed himself in his final game, Iowa's bowl contest against Georgia Tech. Going head-to-head with Derrick Morgan, who was drafted No. 16 overall by Tennessee, Bulaga allowed just three tackles and no sacks as Iowa rolled up 403 yards of offense. He also took out Morgan on running back Brandon Wegher's 32-yard TD run that clinched Iowa's 24-14 victory.

"He is a unique player," Bulaga said of Morgan, with whom he did some pre-training for the draft out in Phoenix. "He has a lot of different skill sets that are tough to deal with, but I thought I did a pretty good job of preparing for him and then being able to defend him with all of the moves he threw at me. I thought I did a pretty good job against him."

Thompson acknowledged the Packers studied a lot of Bulaga's game tapes from 2008 as well as those from this past season, knowing he struggled for a while coming back from the thyroid problem.

"We focused a little bit more on the end of the season this year, the last few games, and felt like that was when he was at his best and healthiest," said Thompson, who knocked on the wooden podium in the Lambeau Field media auditorium when he was asked if Bulaga could become one of those decade-long, worry-free guys in the trenches.

Philbin noted one of the qualities the Packers like most about Bulaga is that he "wants to be a great player." The northern Illinois native who grew up an NFC North fan will certainly get that chance in Green Bay.

"What I want to accomplish is be a successful starter on an offensive line for an organization," Bulaga said. "I want to be able to play good football for a very long time and be beneficial to an organization, to have an organization want to want me there for a long time."

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content