GREEN BAY, Wis. — NFL rookie first-round picks have made plenty of noise over the past couple of weeks for things like refusing to carry a veteran player's shoulder pads or sporting a Friar Tuck-style haircut as part of a rookie ritual that was apparently meant to build team chemistry.
The Packers' Bryan Bulaga is getting attention, too, but not for participating in or shunning traditional or more unconventional methods of hazing. He has worked his way into a chance to start at left guard and has impressed teammates and coaches with his humility along the way. He's doing a lot of learning and still hasn't even competed in an NFL preseason game. Bulaga, however, hasn't had trouble doing a convincing impression of a calm, collected veteran.
"He's a good guy," Packers ORG Josh Sitton told PFW after practice Tuesday morning. "He fits in with us. He's a hard worker. Just because he was a first-rounder doesn't mean he thinks he deserves anything or is going to have anything handed to him. He brings his hard hat to work every day, and I admire that about him.
"(He's) a young guy who was taken high in the draft, (but) you couldn't tell if he was (an undrafted) free agent or a first-rounder. He's shown that quality, and I really like that about him."
Head coach Mike McCarthy said he started considering shifting Bulaga, who had played exclusively at left tackle since his sophomore year of college, to left guard around the middle of last week. McCarthy made up his mind Monday morning, and the 6-5, 314-pound Iowa product slid inside to compete against Daryn Colledge for a starting job later that day — just a little over a week after training camp started.
"I was excited about it," Bulaga, the 23rd overall pick in this year's draft, said. "I'm very thankful that the coaches are giving me that opportunity, so I'm going to try to make the most out of it."
Some are already calling Bulaga the front-runner to win the job, although coaches say the competition is wide open. Colledge, who has started 60 games over the past four seasons, could be dealt if he doesn't win the competition, but he's faced challenges for his starting job before and won't go down without a tough battle.
This challenge will be different, however, than others Colledge has faced. Bulaga may not carry himself with a sense of entitlement, but he's viewed as a building block for the future and he's not going to get much better by sitting on the bench.
"(Bulaga) has earned this right," McCarthy said of opening up the competition at left guard to include the rookie. "He's been impressive. I like what I've seen from the individual drills to the group drills all the way to the team drills. I saw it again (at a scrimmage) Saturday night. We're going to give him a shot."
Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin was asked whether the team had put Bulaga in a rough spot by waiting until August to work him into the rotation at left guard when it could have done so during OTAs and minicamps months earlier. Despite his impressive work ethic and natural ability, the rookie will need time to adjust, according to his head coach.
"Things happen faster (at guard)," McCarthy said. "There's more to do as far as from an assignment standpoint. Your recognition and anticipation is something that is definitely heightened. Tackle is a cleaner position, especially the way we're built and the way we're designed from an offensive structure standpoint. In our run-blocking assignments and our pass-protection blocking assignments, our stress really starts at the center and the guards and works its way out. ... Guard is more of a challenge for a younger player, in my opinion."
There will be some differences, but Philbin said Bulaga isn't going to encounter a drastic change in responsibilities at guard.
"We kind of teach blocking is blocking," Philbin said. "... It doesn't matter, in my humble opinion, if you're a guard, tackle or center."
The competition at left guard could linger for a couple of weeks, but the Packers would likely prefer to have the starting offensive line decided heading into their final preseason game. Coaches aren't yet comfortable calling him a front-runner to start, but it's clear the Packers are feeling good about the decision to take Bulaga, who fell to them in the draft after some had projected him to be a top-10 pick.
"Certainly (I) didn't have any preconceived notions that he was going to be this or that," Philbin said. "You draft a guy, you get him on your campus so to speak, and you start working with him. You see where they're at. You see where they're at mentally. You see what kind of maturity level they have and how they respond to the challenges of being a professional athlete.
"So far he's responding well."
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