Everything in Bryan Bulaga’s world was pointing up.
Bulaga’s left hip was healed and medical personnel assured him he should not experience long-term effects. He and Abbie Mumpower, whom he dated since they were students at Iowa, just got married last month in Milwaukee.
And Bulaga was moving from right tackle to left tackle for the Green Bay Packers this season, which happens to be his contract year. Bulaga certainly has never come off as greedy, but left tackle is a glamour position when it’s time to get paid, so heading into his second professional contract, the timing of the move was ideal for him.
Then, the bad news hit. Bulaga suffered a knee injury in Saturday’s Family Night scrimmage. While he did not leave the field during the scrimmage, reports Monday indicated Bulaga likely will miss the season.
The 2007 Marian Central graduate, who grew up in Crystal Lake, was seeking a second opinion from renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews. Joe Bulaga, Bryan’s father, said MRI results were sent to Andrews. But members of the Packers’ medical staff diagnosed an ACL tear.
Bulaga’s most serious injury previous to this came last season when he suffered a small fracture in his left hip in Week 9 against the Arizona Cardinals. Bulaga, now 24, was able to recover without surgery, but missed the remainder of the season.
The Packers were not saying a lot on Monday, although coach Mike McCarthy is scheduled to speak on Tuesday.
Bulaga was excited about getting back to full strength and the Packers were moving him and right guard Josh Sitton, who have played together three season, both to the left side.
Last winter on a visit to Crystal Lake, Bulaga talked about his first extended period away from football because of an injury.
“I’ve been nicked up, but never had to sit out a season,” he said in January. “This is new for me to start nine games and then watch the remainder from the sideline. It’s tough.”
Bulaga also realized how precious each year in football can be after watching long-time veteran linemates Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton retire in the last two years. When Bulaga was drafted in 2010, the Packers figured it was to fill Clifton’s spot at left tackle. Clifton, however, reconsidered and returned to football and Bulaga took over five games into his rookie season.
“You kind of know this game doesn’t last forever,” Bulaga said. “There’s only so much your body can take after so many years of pounding from high school to the pro level. It’s all about ‘How you can keep your body healthy as long as possible?’ ”
Bulaga (6-foot-5, 314 pounds) has become one of the NFL’s top tackles and would have been ready for another challenge protecting quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ blind side this season. Now, that appears to be on hold for another year, while either David Bakhtiari and Marshall Newhouse handle the job this season.
Football players know injuries are part of the deal. It’s just frustrating for Bulaga that he just came off one and was hit with another. Especially when he could have been so integral for a Super Bowl contender.
He has age on his side and will have almost an entire year to have his knee fixed and rehabilitated for training camp in 2014. With all that sitting around though, that year is going to seem longer.
• Joe Stevenson is a senior sports writer for the Northwest Herald. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can follow him on Twitter @nwh_JoePrepZone.