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Making the Leap, No. 19: Packers OT Bryan Bulaga

Around The League will profile the top 40 players we see Making the Leap in 2013. No. 19 on the list: Green Bay Packers offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga.

Why Bulaga is on the list


Aaron Rodgers, maybe the NFL's finest quarterback and definitely its richest, was sacked more than any other last season. The Packers allowed their All-Pro centerpiece to be taken down 51 times, a flaw that coach Mike McCarthy has vowed to correct in 2013.

McCarthy's decision to reshuffle the line -- starting with Bulaga's move from right to left tackle -- is the key to Green Bay's season. When it comes to Making the Leap, Bulaga has no choice in the matter.

Grading offensive tackles on film is elusive, but I saw positives in Bulaga's play. Before he was lost for the season with a fractured hip, Bulaga displayed a healthy dose of power and keen foot movement in nine starts at right tackle. I was especially impressed with his handiwork in the Packers' 42-14 win over the Houston Texans in Week 6.

Two plays stood out, giving me hope that Bulaga has the capability to handle the league's top defenders. In the All-22 clip below, Bulaga goes one-on-one with J.J. Watt, tossing the behemoth to the turf. (FYI: Few humans are capable of this.)

In pass protection, Bulaga shows he can hang with oncoming rushers. Below, he badgers Brooks Reed long enough to keep Rodgers safe on this 21-yard connection with Randall Cobb.

McCarthy views Bulaga as Green Bay's top tackle, and it's because of plays like this that he's being asked to protect Rodgers' blindside.

Obstacles


Josh Sitton, the Packers' most reliable guard, also is making the right-to-left switch with Bulaga. That's a positive on paper, but Sitton told ESPN.com, "It's something that's going to take time."

Exactly. Time for this refashioned line to build chemistry, and time for Bulaga to adjust to a role he has never mastered in the NFL. Along with the sunnier snaps above, Bulaga too often was victimized by more athletic edge rushers. At right, he's handled by Seattle Seahawks end Bruce Irvin in the "Fail Mary" affair, a game in which Bulaga give up two of the eight sacks on Rodgers that night.

Bulaga is being asked to assume leadership status over this group and become a guy whom the Packers can rely on weekly. Sidelined by injury two years running, Bulaga's durability is a concern.

2013 expectations


We're going to quickly find out if Bulaga is up to the task. Green Bay's rugged schedule pits him against a rowdy string of edge rushers.

It starts in Week 1 against the San Francisco 49ers' Aldon Smith and continues with Terrell Suggs, Julius Peppers, DeMarcus Ware, Jared Allen, Michael Johnson and Jason Pierre-Paul. The list reads like a meaty nightmare, but if Bulaga and Sitton can stay healthy, expect to see better line play in 2013.

Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSesslerNFL.

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