GREEN BAY, Wis. It's never good news for an NFL player when he suffers a season-ending injury. But in the case of Packers offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga, the silver lining is that it wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been.
Bulaga injured his hip in Week 9 and was placed on injured reserve soon after. There was some question, though, over the type of hip injury Bulaga sustained. A dislocated hip has proven to be a career-ender, most notably in the case of Bo Jackson. That was even what Bulaga's mother feared had happened to her son.
"I think whenever you hear the hip injury, everybody just points to the Bo Jackson injury, which I heard multiple times, even from people back home," Bulaga said while cleaning out his locker at season's end. "I think my mom asked me three or four times, 'Did you dislocate your hip?' because that's what the media was projecting that I did.
"I was a little bit worried before I actually got the results back. I saw the specialist and he settled me down a little bit and told me, 'Yeah, you had a fracture in your hip, but it wasn't as serious as it could have been, that's for sure.' I was a little worried, but now it's just letting the bone heal and getting back to full strength."
A hip fracture is still a serious injury, but it shouldn't keep Bulaga off the field when the Packers begin next season.
"There's no doubt about it," Bulaga said. "I feel pretty good right now. The rehab process is starting to ramp up with what I'm able to do and kind of what the trainers and I have going right now. So, I think from that standpoint, absolutely (I'll be recovered by next season)."
Bulaga was less certain, however, about being ready in late July for the start of training camp.
"That's a little bit far in advance to project what the training staff and everybody's going to be ready for me to do," he said. "If it were up to me, I would do everything. That's just the way I operate. We'll see. It's a little bit far out in advance to tell what I'm going to be doing, but I'm pretty confident training camp is a good goal to definitely look at."
Bulaga has been doing basic leg exercises and has been able to add more to his workouts in recent weeks.
"I'm very comfortable with what I've been doing and how it's felt, so it's very positive," Bulaga said.
With Bulaga sidelined, undrafted rookie Don Barclay stepped into the starting role at right tackle. Bulaga could only watch as the Packers won the NFC North and later was thoroughly outplayed in a postseason loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
"It's been one of the harder things I've ever had to deal with," he said. "I've had stints where I've been out for a week or two here or there, but to be sidelined for the season and have to watch games has been one of the hardest things. Especially when you start to feel a lot better and you don't have any pain in that area, it's hard. It's definitely hard.
"You definitely take something away from being out and watching other people play and missing the games. It's something that I'll take into my offseason training as a little something extra to keep me moving through it."
Prior to the 2012 season, coach Mike McCarthy believed that Bulaga was on the verge of becoming a Pro Bowl-caliber player. Bulaga didn't live up to that billing in the games he was healthy for, but still only 23 years old, there's time for McCarthy's statement to become reality.
"What I've always said about the Pro Bowl talk, I don't even worry about that kind of stuff," said Bulaga, a 2010 first-round pick. "That's all people's perspectives. I feel like there's stuff I need to improve on. I feel like that every offseason. During the season, I'm just trying to do what I need to do to help the team, bottom line. That's just kind of the way I operate with that."
After two consecutive divisional-round exits, Green Bay is currently stuck at the level of being plenty good to make the playoffs but not nearly good enough to advance to the Super Bowl. But Bulaga thinks the Packers have a bright future.
"I think the outlook is very good," he said. "There's a lot of very talented football players on this roster, from the younger guys all the way up to the older guys. I think the outlook's good. I think it's something to work for. You saw what happened and I think that's going to motivate everybody going into the offseason."
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