Bulaga Injury Changes Saturday Game Strategy

With just one preseason game left to pay for the starters, the Packers are about a half away from knowing whether they will have lost any significant players for the season opener against the Seahawks. Outside of a concussion here and a concussion there, the team had been pretty fortunate with injuries until, that is, Bryan Bulaga went down in a heap in Wednesday's practice.

As of now, all we know is that it's an ankle and not his troublesome knee. We know that he will not play Saturday night and feels better today than he did yesterday. Hopefully, 17 days of rest will get him healed in time to face off against Cliff Avril. Bright side, it will give us an idea whether the Pack has a capable swing tackle to plug in if needed. Kyle Murphy and Jason Spriggs will both get a shot and they'll be tested against one of the league's top defenses in Denver.

Bulaga's absence will likely affect Aaron Rodgers' presence. I can't imagine him playing more than two or three series, depending on how things go. This is an ideal opportunity for Brett Hundley to get one more chance to audition for a chance to start somewhere next season--again, against an elite defense, one that's likely to keep most, if not all, starters in through the first half. He's looked great so far. A strong showing on Saturday night would put himself in great position, and give Packers fans hope that the team might be able to survive a short term Rodgers injury.

The trickle-down effect extends to the running game. In a perfect world, the slow-out-of-the-gate running attack would get some good reps in behind the starting line, but that's no longer possible. Ty Montgomery appears to be on track to play a few series, despite the sickle cell trait concern that come with playing at high altitude. The three rookies get their last real chance to state their case in this game, though the lack of a cutdown to 75 will give them another week to show what they can do.

I'll be interested to watch the wide receiver battle continue to unfold. Assuming the Pack keeps Geronimo on the opening 53 (despite his one game suspension), they would likely have two (maybe three) spots left between Jeff Janis, Trevor Davis, DeAngelo Yancey, Malachi Dupree and Max McCaffrey. The others seem like long shots. Janis and Davis have both shown their special teams value. The others may need to as well if they want to grab one of the last precious spots. Right now, I'd say McCaffrey has the inside track over the two rookies, who could be destined for the practice squad. Would Ted Thompson really put three draft picks on the PS (guard Kofi Amichia appears to be destined to start there too).

Let's switch to the other side of the ball. We'll assume that the #1s will get to face the Broncos #1s for the whole first half, as Denver tries to get newly named starting QB Trevor Siemian as much playing time as possible in his final preseason start. Like last week, Clay Matthews and Nick Perry might come out sooner, given their importance with no real proven backups ready to step in. With Vince Biegel still on ice, Jayrone Elliott, Kyler Fackrell and Reggie Gilbert will get lots of chances to show if they're ready to get some regular game snaps.

The Broncos figure to feature newly acquired Jamaal Charles quite a bit in his first game action as he tries to show he still has cartilage in his knees. Packer fans will watch closely, as many thought he might be worth the gamble, based on the lack of experience Green Bay has at the position. Second year guys Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry get a chance to build on last week's solid performance, though Lowry may not play much after it appears he dodged a serious knee injury last week.

The cornerback pecking order will be interesting to watch unfold. With Davon House likely out, it sounds like Damarius Randall and Kevin King will man the outside, with Quentin Rollins in the slot. Josh Hawkins needs one more strong showing to pass LaDarius Gunter on the depth chart, and will see if undrafted guys Donatello Brown and Lenzy Pipkins can fight off Gunter for the final spot (if the Pack keeps six). The safety group is the deepest it's been in years. I'd like to see Josh Jones show he's getting more comfortable both at safety and inside linebacker.

As McCarthy mentioned in Thursday's press conference, special teams gets a close look in this game, as guys can cement their standing on the roster with solid play there. Paying attention to who is out there will give you an idea of how the initial roster will stack up. Both return jobs remain in flux; so Janis, Davis, Cobb and McCaffrey could all state their case with a strong showing on Saturday.

As I announced earlier this week, I'll be doing a "Packer Review" podcast this season, which will be available the morning after regular season games on iTunes and the iHeart radio app. I'm doing them for the preseason as well (but they won't be available at those two places). I'll tweet out a link on Sunday if you want to listen.

Finally, if you're headed to the Minnesota State Fair on Tuesday, swing by the KFAN broadcast area in Carousel Park in the 10:00 hour. I'll join Vikings cheerleader Paul Allen for his annual Great NFC North debate. As usual, there's not much to debate, but I could use a little green and gold love. It'll have the vibe of a Trump rally, with me playing the part of James Comey.

Trent Tucker and I will also be there both Saturday mornings for "In the Zone" from 8-10.


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