World’s Best Preview: Bulaga’s Brilliance
By allowing zero sacks against the opening gauntlet of Chicago’s Khalil Mack, Minnesota’s Danielle Hunter, Denver’s Von Miller, Philadelphia’s Brandon Graham and Dallas’ DeMarcus Lawrence – a quintet with a total of 107.5 sacks and seven Pro Bowls in 2017 and 2018 – Bulaga has emerged as one of the understated heroes of the Green Bay Packers’ 4-1 start.
That would make practice squad outside linebacker Randy Ramsey one of the unsung heroes. It’s Ramsey’s job to wear a yellow jersey emblazoned with the number of that week’s top pass rusher. Thus far this season, that top pass rusher has lined up across from Bulaga.
“A guy that’s done a hell of a job on scout team is Ramsey,” Bulaga said. “I’ll talk to him today, I’ll talk to him again tomorrow about a look or a certain thing that I may pick up from a defensive end and try to have him replicate it. He’s a very athletic dude so he’s able to pick up movements and watch tape on guys, as well, and try to mimic things. It’s not going to be 100 percent because he has his own style, but he’s done a great job of giving looks that are something similar that I’m going to see in a game. When you get to see it and feel it and go against it during the week – yeah, there’s going to be different circumstances in the game – but there’s some things that you’re somewhat prepared for.”
“And,” Bulaga said, “it’s making sure I’m as healthy as I can be.”
Nobody has ever questioned Bulaga’s talent. When healthy, he’s been one of the best right tackles in the NFL for most of his career. Health, of course, has been the major barrier to Bulaga being recognized as an elite player. There have been major injuries, such as the hip that limited him to nine games in 2012 and knee injuries that cost him all of 2013 and most of 2017. And there have been minor injuries that have kept him out of a game or two here and there or cost him valuable practice time.
While Bulaga missed the second half of the Week 4 game against Philadelphia with a shoulder injury, he was back in the lineup against Lawrence last week. The two-time Pro Bowl defensive end, who had 25 sacks the previous two seasons, had zero sacks, zero quarterback hits and one tackle last week. That was a critical component in Green Bay’s 34-24 victory.
“When you feel like you don’t have any limitations moving laterally or forward, you can redirect and react and do all the things that you need to do against these top-level guys,” Bulaga said. “They’re already way more athletic than us, we’ll just put in that way. They move better than us. They’re better athletes than us. If you’re hurt and you’re going out there and you’re going against those top-level guys, yeah, you’re going to be at a little bit of a disadvantage just stepping on the field. Being as healthy as possible definitely is a big factor.”
As the 30-year-old Bulaga’s career has progressed, he’s changed his workout regimen. No longer is it about piling 45-pound plates on the bar and lifting as much weight as possible as often as possible to build strength. Instead, he’s turned more to activation workouts to supplement the heavy lifts. What’s an activation workout? To bypass the technical jargon, Bulaga provided this example in regard to his hamstrings.
“For me, a lot of stability-ball work. A lot of hamstring work, one-legged curls, holds and things that make that muscle work without loading a lot of weight and without having to dead lift 400 pounds to turn on my hamstrings. You’re doing it with small movements and stability things that turn everything on so you’re not stressing your joints and body, but it’s harder work than what it looks. You get up and your hammies are sore and tight.
“At the end of the day, I’m not 22, 23 years anymore. I can’t be doing that stuff and pounding on my joints and body. You have to find different ways to get what I need and also maintaining and getting stronger and protecting joints, protecting my back, my knees, my ankles – everything that affects guys as they get older. I feel like my trainer and I, we’ve done a really good job of finding those small areas that you can improve and get better. We’ve attacked it and it’s gotten better and better.”
The results have been obvious. Neither coach Matt LaFleur nor offensive line coach Adam Stenavich could recall off the top of their heads an offensive lineman playing so well while facing such a series of premier defenders.
Bulaga, though, is too busy living in the moment. Other than interviews on Thursday and Friday, he hasn’t had time to think about his early-season accomplishment. According to Pro Football Focus, among all offensive tackles with at least 135 pass-protecting snaps, Bulaga is one of 13 to have not allowed a sack but the only one to not have allowed a quarterback hit, either.
“I normally reflect after the season,” Bulaga said. “To look at it right now would be very short-sighted of me. I get it, you guys have a job and you’re looking and you’re analyzing things and you’ve got stories to write. Yeah, it is what it is with the guys I’ve gone against. They’re all damned good football players and a lot of them are All-Pro guys. I understand that but, for me, every week’s a new challenge. Every week, especially this year, we’re going against someone who can ruin my day real quick. Every guy has the potential to beat you on every play if you’re not dialed in, tuned in, thinking about the right things, studying and doing all that. For me, it’s take this thing one week at a time and prepare and try to improve every day and work on something that you weren’t comfortable doing the day before.”
On Monday night against the Detroit Lions, Bulaga will not face a marquee player. His primary responsibility will be Devon Kennard, who has rushed against the right tackle 83.5 percent of the time, according to PFF. He’ll also get a sprinkling of the Lions’ big free-agent acquisition, Trey Flowers, though Flowers rushes 75.5 percent of the time against the left tackle. Kennard has three sacks and 15 total pressures, according to PFF; all three sacks and nine of the pressures came in Week 1 vs. Arizona. In his sixth season, Kennard has 19.5 sacks for his career, including a career-high seven last year.
“I have a lot of respect for Kennard,” Bulaga said. “I think he’s a good football player and I think Flowers is a really good football player. I’ll see both of those guys. You can correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe they paid Flowers a lot of money this offseason because he’s a hell of a player. You watch him on tape and you watch Kennard on tape and these guys show up. They’re good players. You watch them against Kansas City, you watch them against Philly, and (Eagles right tackle) Lane Johnson and (Chiefs right tackle Mitchell) Schwartz are two really good right tackles that I have a lot of respect for. To me, it doesn’t matter if they don’t have the same recognition as a Khalil Mack or a Von Miller. Those two guys are good football players and they can make me look really bad if I’m not ready to go do my job and prepare the same way.”
The timing for Bulaga’s outstanding play is fortuitous for the team and himself. He is in the final season of a five-year, $33.75 million contract. The combination of injury history and salary have made him the subject of offseason speculation about being a money-saving roster cut – a silly conversation considering the Packers didn’t have anyone on the roster remotely capable of replacing him – but he’s put himself in position for one more big payday.
“Not really,” Bulaga said when asked if that’s crossed his mind. “It’s kind of the same way it was when I was about to be a free agent the last time. I let that stuff work itself out and I’ll play football. That’s the way I look at it. Yeah, that’s about it.”
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