GREEN BAY, Wis. – Right tackle Bryan Bulaga’s season is over, and the Green Bay Packers are one more offensive line injury away from having to play an undrafted rookie free agent.
Bulaga, a Marian Central graduate from Crystal Lake, was placed on injured reserve Monday, becoming the Packers’ fifth significant contributor to be lost for the season. He joins linebackers Desmond Bishop (hamstring), D.J. Smith (knee) and Nick Perry (wrist), along with running back Brandon Saine (knee). Running back Cedric Benson is on IR but could return next month.
Bulaga suffered a dislocated hip against Arizona on Nov. 4, and the team’s medical staff determined it was too risky for Bulaga to return.
“His long-term health is always at the forefront of these decisions,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “If you ask Bryan, you walk in there Monday morning, he’s out there working out, no crutches, not saying nice things about the doctors, which is nice to hear. [He’s saying] he wants to play and he’s going to be fine.”
McCarthy said the early diagnosis is that Bulaga will not need surgery, but a final decision will be made in several weeks.
When Bulaga went out early in the second quarter against the Cardinals, the Packers shifted left guard T.J. Lang to right tackle and brought Evan Dietrich-Smith in off the bench to replace Lang at left guard. The only backup offensive linemen on the 53-man roster are undrafted rookie free agents Don Barclay and Greg Van Roten.
Green Bay (6-3) is coming off a bye and will play Detroit (4-5) on Sunday.
Barclay was a three-year starter at left tackle at West Virginia and played in a school record-tying 52 games in four years for the Mountaineers. He moved around in training camp but is now the top backup at right tackle, according to Dietrich-Smith. Barclay said he’s been taking snaps at right tackle and both guard spots over the past six weeks, with a few additional snaps at right tackle on Monday.
“You’ve always got to be ready, and that’s kind of the position I’ve been in the first nine weeks. You’re just waiting on a chance,” Barclay said. “It’s sad to hear that about Bryan. He’s a close friend of mine; we’ve gotten close as the time’s gone on. But he understands stuff like that happens and I’ve just got to be ready.”
Van Roten, who was a two-time first-team all-Ivy League selection at Pennsylvania, was cut at the end of training camp but re-signed to the practice squad. He was promoted to the 53-man roster last month. He would seem to be the primary backup at the center and guard spots at this point.
“You’re always kind of on call and ready to go. When Bryan went down, it was like, ‘The good life’s over. You’re going to have to get ready to play,’” Van Roten said. “I don’t think it changes as far as preparation. You always have to be ready to go. I’ve been at center mostly, so I’m going to stay there, and I’ll be both guard spots and we’ll kind of see. Wherever they need to plug me in, I’m sure I can perform.”
That’s apparently how the team feels about both youngsters, too. There were no indications Monday evening that the team, which kept only seven linemen on the 53-man roster coming out of training camp, intended to add a veteran free agent off the street.
“I know one thing: They’ve gotten a lot of better just practicing,” veteran defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said of Barclay and Van Roten. “From when they first got here to now, it’s a big difference. The guys can play.”