GREEN BAY — Bryan Bulaga won’t play Saturday night in Denver. Will Aaron Rodgers? If he does, it might be less than the Green Bay Packers originally planned.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Thursday the right ankle injury sustained by Bulaga, the team’s veteran right tackle, during practice Wednesday is significant enough that he will not play in the third preseason game against the Broncos.
The extent of the injury had yet to be determined by the team’s medical staff — “We’re actually still doing some testing, so I do not have a timeline,” McCarthy said — so it’s unclear just how long Bulaga might be out. But Bulaga expressed confidence he’ll be ready for the team’s Sept. 10 regular-season opener against the Seattle Seahawks at Lambeau Field.
“Nobody wants to get nicked up, but this isn’t something that I’m too worried about,” Bulaga said. “It doesn’t feel great today, probably won’t feel great tomorrow, probably won’t feel great the next day, but I’m pretty sure I should be able to bounce back from it and get my body ready to go for the opener. That’s the goal, at least.”
With Bulaga not playing against the Broncos, McCarthy acknowledged he might have to reconsider how much Rodgers, the two-time NFL MVP who’s entering his 10th season as the Packers’ starting quarterback, plays against Denver’s vaunted pass rush. The third preseason game is historically the game in which Rodgers plays the most; last year, he played his only preseason snaps — two series, 26 plays — in the third preseason game.
Rodgers played one 15-play, 75-yard series in last week’s win at Washington, and he took the lion’s share of first-team reps in practice this week, indicating he was in line to play more against the Broncos. How much more depends on how comfortable McCarthy feels with replacements Kyle Murphy and Jason Spriggs protecting the team’s most important player in a game that does not count.
Asked directly if Bulaga’s absence would influence how much Rodgers plays, McCarthy admitted it could.
“We’ll talk about it,” McCarthy said. “Really, I want to make sure we get all the information.”
Without Bulaga, who is among the league’s top right tackles and with left tackle David Bakhtiari makes up arguably the top tackle tandem in the NFL, Murphy, a sixth-round pick from Stanford last year, would likely get the starting nod, as he’s spent virtually all of training camp with the No. 2 line at right tackle. Spriggs, a second-round pick from Indiana a year ago, has worked almost exclusively with the No. 2 line at left tackle, backing up Bakhtiari.
After Bulaga was injured on the first play of a 9-on-7 run-blocking drill during Wednesday’s practice, both Murphy and Spriggs took snaps in his place with the No. 1 line, though Murphy saw more action than Spriggs.
“(I) really like where they’re at. Looks like they’re taking that step in their second year,” McCarthy said. “They’ve had good camps. I have confidence in both those guys. It’s a very healthy competition.”
Spriggs had a tough go against Washington as he was at least partly responsible for three sacks.
“You go through and you have struggles sometimes; certainly, his hit now,” Packers offensive line coach James Campen. “If there’s a place to have it, it’s better in a preseason game than a regular-season game. I’m confident in Jason that he’ll make the corrections necessary and play much better ... this week.”Murphy played just eight offensive snaps last year as a rookie, while Spriggs started two games at right guard with Pro Bowler T.J. Lang injured and finished the season having played 282 snaps.
“You always have to be ready to play. They say the NFL is next-man-up mentality, whether you’re going into the game thinking you’re the starter or you’re coming in as a backup,” Murphy said. “You have to be ready for the next play. Obviously when you go out there with the 1s and you’re blocking for Aaron, there’s a little sense of urgency that comes up. But as far as an approach or mentality, you don’t get any more jittery or whatever. You just put your hard hat on and come to work, do what you got to do.”
The hope, of course, is that Murphy will only have to do that work on Saturday night and in the Aug. 31 preseason finale against the Los Angeles Rams. With the Packers having lost Lang in free agency and replaced him with veteran Jahri Evans, Bulaga said it’s important to get back to work so the line can mesh as a five-man unit.
“I think when guys can play together for such an extended period of time and no one’s missing snaps,” Bulaga said. “Things are going to happen to guys. That’s the nature of the game. But the longer you can keep guys consistently starting together and taking reps at practice together, the better things are. So it’s a little unfortunate that this happened. It’s a part of the game I guess. But I’m going to do everything I can to get back as soon as I can and be back out there working with Jahri and the rest of the guys and get this thing back going again.”