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Packers RT Bryan Bulaga cleared to practice nine months after ACL tear

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The regular-season opener no longer looks like a pipe dream for Bryan Bulaga. It's almost a certainty now.

The Green Bay Packers' veteran right tackle was activated off the physically unable to perform list on Friday, less than nine months after he tore the ACL in his right knee.

"He just passed his physical today, so Bryan Bulaga will practice in a limited-return mode," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Friday. "I know he's excited about the news that he got this morning from Dr. [Pat] McKenzie."

It was a little more than a week ago when McCarthy surprisingly said he felt good about Bulaga's chance to be ready for the regular-season opener. After Friday's move, Bulaga could go in the Aug. 9 preseason opener or even in Saturday's Family Night practice at Lambeau Field.

It's a remarkable recovery for a player who blew out his knee last year on Nov. 6, and it should serve as a boost to the Packers' offense. It also gives the nine-year veteran the chance to ease his way back in before the Sept. 9 season opener against the Bears.

Bulaga tore his left ACL during Family Night in 2013 -- the last time the event was a scrimmage before it was changed to a regular practice. He said it took him a few weeks of practice to feel like he was ready for game action.

"I think it's the initial getting pressed by another 300-pound guy and kind of feeling the strain of that," Bulaga said last week. "That's something that you don't go through every day. So when you don't get to do it for a while and then you're rehabbing an injury and trying to come back for it, those are things you kind of need to go through and test with. Probably a few weeks and some live reps."

It came as a mild surprise that new Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst didn't draft an offensive lineman until the fifth round, when he took Washington State's Cole Madison, who hasn't reported to training camp yet because of what the Packers have called "a personal matter." The medical reports about Bulaga's speedy recovery likely factored into the draft decision. In the meantime, Jason Spriggs, Kyle Murphy and veteran free agent Byron Bell have split reps at right tackle.

Bulaga has two years left on a five-year, $33.75 million contract and denied a report that the Packers approached him about a pay cut. He's still slated to make $6.75 million in salary and bonuses this season and next season.

Bulaga's return means quarterback Aaron Rodgers should have four of the five starters back on the offensive line for Week 1 and the fifth, right guard Justin McCray, played extensively last season at multiple spots on the line.

It leaves outside linebacker Nick Perry (ankle) as the only player who hasn't practiced yet in camp. He remains on PUP. Inside linebacker Jake Ryan is expected to be placed on season-ending injured reserve after he tore the ACL in his right knee in practice on Monday.