Even though Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy insisted veteran Chad Clifton is his starting left tackle earlier in the week, it now seems inevitable rookie Bryan Bulaga will take over for Clifton full time, this season.
That will probably happen Monday night when the Packers take on the Chicago Bears.
Clifton was removed from last Sunday’s win over the Buffalo Bills midway though the second quarter. The veteran hasn’t been effective in either of the Packers games this season, but McCarthy said the move was made because of Clifton’s injured knee.
On Monday, McCarthy stood by Clifton as the starter, but admitted injuries might keep him out of the Bears game. The question really is, if Bulaga starts the Chicago game does he ever give the starting spot back to Clifton?
Not many people see that as a likely scenario. Pete Dougherty suggests if Bulaga plays well Monday, the job is his.
[The Packers] drafted Bulaga not only for the future, but for just such a time. Ideally, yes, he might sit a season before succeeding Clifton, but based on Bulaga’s play in training camp and in the final 2½ quarters against Buffalo, he’s good enough to go right now.
He’s a better run blocker than Clifton ever was, and now that Clifton has trouble bending and exploding in the run game, the difference is large. Bulaga doesn’t have Clifton’s uncommonly quick feet – for most of his career, Clifton was a first-rate if underpublicized pass blocker – but for a rookie he’s an unusually sound technician. At this point, there’s probably not much difference in their ability to protect.
So the starting job at left tackle could be riding on Bulaga’s performance this week against Chicago, assuming he plays.
Bulaga will face a stern test against Chicago defensive end Julius Peppers, who usually lines up on the right, but is expected to move around against the Packers. If Bulaga proves himself against the Bears, the Packers only reason to replace him with an injury-prone, past-his-prime veteran is loyalty.
That makes no sense, even for McCarthy.
Allowing Bulaga to start now gives him experience that will pay off later in the season. Not playing Bulaga puts the Packers in the position of hoping Clifton makes it through the season. If the veteran goes down at the end of the year, the team is in the position of trying to break in a rookie left tackle for their playoff run, which is worrisome to say the least.
For the Packers and Bulaga, the time is now.