The short arms thing grabbed the headlines when Bryan Bulaga visited with Green Bay Packers media Thursday afternoon. And why not? The big fella got off some good lines.
“I’ve never been in a situation in a football game where I have thought to myself after a play, ‘Gosh, I wish my arms were longer.’ I’ve never been in that situation,” said Bulaga, former Iowa all-Big Ten offensive tackle and Packers’ first-round draft pick. “Nor have I been in a situation where I’ve been run blocking a guy and my hands were too small to fit around his chest plate. I’ve never been in that situation.”
Bulaga’s arms measured at 33¼ inches. Thirty-six is considered ideal for NFL left offensive tackles, which is the position Bulaga, 6-6, 315, is being groomed for in Green Bay. The arms issue could be why Bulaga went from a potential top 10 to No. 23, where the Packers jumped.
The arm thing was the funny bit. But remember last fall? Remember the confusion that swirled before the Iowa State game? Internet craziness had Bulaga out forever with a heart problem due to an infected tattoo.
It wasn’t that.
“That was just an Iowa City rumor. A lot of things go around in Iowa City,” Bulaga said. “It had nothing to do with the tattoo. I don’t even know if you can get thyroiditis from a tattoo, to be honest. I’ve never heard of that. No, that’s just not true.”
Bulaga had an illness called thyroiditis. He was told by doctors that it probably was a virus he caught in camp, a cold or flu virus, that settled in his thyroid on its way out of his body.
Bulaga played in the Hawkeyes’ opener, but then sat out the next three games. He lost about a dozen pounds and all the conditioning work from winter through summer faded away when he spent three weeks doing basically nothing.
“The (thyroid) levels were elevated to around three times higher than what they should’ve been,” Bulaga said. “If you’re working with levels that elevated, your heart rate tends to increase triple the amount. It speeds up quickly and can cause heart attacks.”
And that was the main issue, Bulaga’s heart rate. That’s what kept him on the sidelines for three weeks.
“The main issue of it was the affect on my heart. That was the one thing they (doctors) wanted to monitor,” Bulaga said. “Once they did a bunch of tests, it came back down to normal, I was able to go back in. That’s one thing they were really worried about, increased heart rate. The weight loss and all that comes along with it. I was able to gain the weight back, but the heart rate issue was what worried them the most.”
Iowa won the three games. Redshirt freshman Riley Reiff gained valuable experience that he otherwise wouldn’t have gotten.
But it was a scary three weeks for Bulaga.
“It was terrible to be honest,” Bulaga said. “It wasn’t only football, I wasn’t able to lift weights, run, jog, ride a bike. I just had to stand around and watch practice. I wasn’t able to do anything. Standing around for three weeks isn’t fun at all. You’re losing weight, getting out of shape. All the work you put in from the offseason in the winter to that point is pretty much gone.
“This thing is hitting you and it’s doing a pretty good job on you and all you can do is stand around and wait for it to pass.”
Bulaga said he didn’t feel 100 percent until the Michigan State game, which was three games after he returned to the lineup. It wasn’t only stamina, but also strength. He said his weightroom numbers took quite a hit. Unfortunately for him, he faced Michigan’s Brandon Graham and Wisconsin’s O’Brien Schofield — two of the Big Ten’s better defensive ends last fall — right off the bat.
It did play somewhat into his decision to enter the draft, which he said was spurred on by Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz and the NFL’s junior draft petition program.
It showed him health is fleeting. He isn’t looking back.
“It was a hard decision just because of the type of people I was around at Iowa. coach Ferentz, (O-line) coach (Reese) Morgan and (strength and conditioning) coach (Chris) Doyle, I had very good relationships with those guys,” Bulaga said. “And then, just the friendships I had at the University and the teammates. That was a strong bond. That was one of the things that kept pulling me back, being around those types of people.
“But I think I made the right decision for myself and my family. Ending up in a place like Green Bay, I don’t think there are any regrets for what I did.
“We looked at it as a if you have an opportunity like this to leave early and be considered as one of the top players, I think it was going to be the best idea. Opportunities like this don’t come around every day. An injury or something crazy like a thyroid infection, stuff like that happens all of the time I guess. We couldn’t take a risk doing it again, so it was the best thing for me to come out and live out my dream and play in the NFL and get drafted by a great team.”
He was also asked if the thyroiditis affected his ability to stay awake in class.
“What was it like going to class? Is it ever fun going to class?” he laughed. ”I was OK staying awake.”
Bulaga didn’t take classes the last semester and is a year away from graduation. Reporters from Milwaukee and Green Bay hounded him at his home in Crystal Lake, Ill., but that’s been the only real change in his life, Bulaga said.
He plans to buy a truck. He kind of has to. He sold the trusty moped that hauled his 315-pound body to class in Iowa City.
“The moped’s back in Iowa City. I sold the moped, unfortunately,” Bulaga said. “It was a good moped. I can tell you it worked out well. Rain, snow, didn’t matter. Still rode it.”
Packers general manager Ted Thompson wants Bulaga to eventually end up at left tackle. Bulaga wants to eventually end up at left tackle, but he knows that will take time. The Packers have 10-year veteran Chad Clifton installed there.
“I’m just hoping I can learn as much as I can from him and garner all the experience he can offer,” Bulaga said. “It’s very valuable information. Anything I can learn from him is very valuable.”