INDIANAPOLIS – The Packers remain the team the Bears need to catch to claim NFC North superiority. As greatly improved as the Bears' offense was in 2013, Green Bay remains the gold standard in the division.
On Friday, Packers coach Mike McCarthy said he believes Marian Central graduate Bryan Bulaga is a huge ingredient to the Packers' success.
“This is the best group of offensive linemen, from a depth standpoint, that we’ve had in my time in Green Bay so there’s a lot of good things to build off of on offense.”
Part of the Packers coach's confidence stems from the improvement in that unit this past season while Bulaga spent the entire year on injured reserve after tearing an ACL in training camp.
McCarthy believes Bulaga is on pace for a full recovery in 2014.
“Bryan Bulaga is in Florida currently and his rehab is ... everything’s on schedule," McCarthy said. "My communications with him are that he’s on time and he’s hit all his targets.”
What is not as clear is where Bulaga will line up in 2014. After being drafted in the first round by the Packers in 2010, he moved into the starting lineup at right tackle the fifth week of the season and went on to become the youngest player to ever start in a Super Bowl at the age of 21.
Bulaga was the Packers' best offensive lineman in 2011 and through the first half of 2012 before a hip injury landed him on season-ending injured reserve.
McCarthy was so pleased with Bulaga’s play as his “best offensive lineman” that he was shifted to left tackle in training camp last season before tearing his knee on Family Night in a team scrimmage before the first exhibition game.
Where will he line up this year?
McCarthy told me that is yet to be decided.
“I told Bryan when he left his (2013) exit interview that I would be in touch with him to let him know what our plan is, whether it’s the left side or the right side," McCarthy said. "That decision will be made once we get a little further into the cut-ups. With our coaching staff changes, we’re probably about five days behind where we’d like to be right now.
"Once we get a little further down the line, get through protections, then we’ll make the final decision on right or left, and at that time I’ll communicate it with Bryan.”
Later, he told the Green Bay Press-Gazette that David Bakhtiari would remain at left tackle.
When pressed on whether that meant Bulaga would return to right tackle and Derek Sherrod would play one or both spots, McCarthy told reporter Press-Gazette Pete Dougherty "We haven’t had a final decision on that, but that’s logical thinking."
McCarthy saying Bakhtiari will remain at left tackle could mean that Bulaga will move spots but also could mean that Bulaga will remain at left tackle and push Bakhtiari for the starting spot there.
As for Zimmer, although he isn’t quite home, he’s delighted to be back in the “neighborhood.”
“I do still have some friends there, in the South Chicago suburbs especially," Zimmer said. "You know, I grew up watching the NFC North, the Bears and the other people in the division. So that’s what football was to me."
It is probably just coincidence that Minnesota GM Rick Spielman and assistant GM George Paton each got their NFL starts with the Bears, and it’s highly unlikely that any of the three will be made welcome when they come home with the Vikings this fall.
• Hub Arkush covers the Bears and the NFL for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at [email protected]