The Green Bay Packers have had a tough go of it the past couple of seasons.
But let’s go back to the 2015 season … after starting the season as everyone expected, going 6-0 before they took a break at the bye, the wheels began to fall off for the Packers.
It seems the Packers couldn’t win to save their souls after the first six games.
After the break, they came out and got smoked at Denver, 29-10; and then lost heartbreakers to the Carolina Panthers, 37-29; to the Detroit Lions, 18-16; and the Bears, 17-13.
All of those games were winnable and the Packers were in a position to pull them out at the end, but couldn’t finish.
Following that embarrassment of a loss to the hated Bears at home on Thanksgiving evening (on the same night the franchise and its fan base honored Brett Favre), the Packers won three straight and took over the lead of the NFC North Division.
Though the team eventually lost out to the Minnesota Vikings for the division title, it was the Packers that moved one step further in the playoffs and nearly made it back to the championship game.
So, with that said, there are plenty of factors that will determine whether the Packers can take the next step in 2016 and earn a berth in the 51st Super Bowl.
One of those factors comes down to the offensive line … and every player on that line.
Earlier last year, I wrote a piece about each of the starting offensive linemen and the role they will play (if they all stay healthy) in the Packers’ late season drive to a potential Super Bowl.
We’ve been drilling down on this line to demonstrate just how important the individuals of this unit will play in a possible run to the Super Bowl in 2016.
Next: Bryan Bulaga
Bryan Bulaga: A valued piece of the puzzle
In his years with the Green Bay Packers, offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga hasn’t been the healthiest of players. In fact, when GM Ted Thompson and the Packers targeted him as their second highest free agent priority last spring and re-signed him to a five-year $33.75 million contract, many asked why.
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After all, he has played in just 52 games over his first five years as a Packer – an average right around 10 per-season.
For that kind of money, one would hope a player would be available every game of every season.
But for Bulaga, drafted in the first round (23rd overall) in the 2010 NFL Draft, his skill set and contributions when he’s been on the field are clear. He adds a dimension at right tackle and a versatility that had the Packers tinkering with the idea of moving him to the left side two seasons ago, that makes him one of the best in league.
That’s some big dough for a guy who has played just one season – his rookie year – in its entirety.
As a rookie in 2010, he helped lead the Packers to a Super Bowl title by playing in all 16 games and starting 12 of them.
However, that’s when the injury bug hit him.
In 2011, he started all 12 games he played in; it was the same in 2012, but that season he played just nine games.
Then came the big hurt in 2013.
The plan at the time was to move both Bulaga and Josh Sitton to the left side in a major shakeup of the offensive line.
That experiment for Bulaga lasted until August when he went down with a season-ending injury during the team’s “Family Night.” David Bakhtiari took over for him and has remained at left tackle.
When Bulaga came back in 2014, he started at right tackle, missing one game early in the season. Taking his place was Marshall Newhouse, who has since been cut from the squad.
When Bulaga came back and played the rest of the season, his value was clear. He helped solidify what head coach Mike McCarthy calls his best unit since he’s been in Green Bay.
Though Bulaga has missed a large amount of time while in Green Bay, I feel he is still one of Ted Thompson‘s top 10 draft picks.
If he stays healthy and plays out the remainder of his new contract, he might be considered one of the best to man the right tackle position.
That’s a big “if.”
In the meantime, we hope for the best. Bulaga has the talent, but the question is whether he has the endurance.
Bryan Bulaga’s career statistics
Time will tell.