GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Bryan Bulaga was an NFL left tackle for all of a few months.
So if the Green Bay Packers decide to move him back to his old spot at right tackle, it would not be a major adjustment.
One of coach Mike McCarthy’s offseason priorities on offense will be to sort out his suddenly crowded tackle position.
Last offseason, McCarthy decided to move his best two linemen -- Bulaga and right guard Josh Sitton -- to the left side. Two weeks into training camp, Bulaga blew out his knee and missed the entire 2013 season. While Sitton remained on the left side and had his best year, making the second-team All-Pro squad, Bulaga spent most of the year rehabilitating his reconstructed ACL at the IMG Academy in Florida.
In the meantime, rookie David Bakhtiari started all 17 games at left tackle and for the most part gave the Packers the production and protection they wanted from their blind-side tackle.
If Bulaga is on track to return by the start of next season -- something that has yet to be determined -- then McCarthy and offensive line coach James Campen will have to decide where to play him. The same goes for another former first-round pick, Derek Sherrod, who returned to the roster late in the season after missing nearly two full seasons because of the broken leg he sustained as a rookie in 2011.
The Packers drafted Bulaga and Sherrod in the first round in back-to-back drafts with the idea that they would bookend the offensive line for years to come. Injuries have thus far prevented that from happening.
“Talking to both Derek Sherrod and Bryan Bulaga, I told them both that as we go through this evaluation process as soon as we decide how we’re going to set reps as far as positions and the identity that I’d get back to them,” McCarthy said last week at his season wrap-up news conference. “But I don’t have an answer for you right now.”
If McCarthy identifies Bakhtiari as one of his top two tackles, he may not want to move him from the left side after just one season.
“You talk about a left guard and a left tackle developing that relationship, that’s critical over there,” McCarthy said.
Bulaga has switched sides before. He started 23 games at left tackle in college at the University of Iowa before taking over as the Packers’ starting right tackle five weeks into his rookie year of 2010. A move back after spending only part of an offseason at left tackle would not be a major adjustment.
“I didn’t even get a full year at left tackle, more like two months,” Bulaga said last week. “I feel like I can go back and forth. But again it’s too early to be even talking about that. This season just got through, it’s hard to even talk about that right now.”
For Bulaga, it will be a second straight season in which he’s trying to return from a major injury. He missed the final seven games plus playoffs of the 2012 season because of a hip injury. He’s less than five months removed from ACL surgery, which was performed by Dr. James Andrews, meaning he likely won’t be cleared by the time the offseason program starts in April. That’s typically when McCarthy would make decisions on position changes.
"Wherever they need me to play, I’ll play," Bulaga said. "That’s not something that’s even on my mind, currently.”
Then there’s Don Barclay, who started all but two games at right tackle this past season and gives the Packers four legitimate tackle prospects heading into next season.
“It will be a competitive situation and a good situation to have,” Campen said.