Kendall Langford is amused by the suggestion that Saturday night’s preseason game at St. Louis will provide the former Rams defensive end some closure.
“Closure?” he said Thursday with a smile. “No, I’m not bitter at all.”
The Indianapolis Colts defender laughs heartily to cement the statement. There aren’t any hard feelings after three seasons with the Rams. Langford reminds that he asked Rams coach Jeff Fisher for his release.
That the Rams granted his wish enabled the eighth-year pro to land a four-year, $17.2-million deal with the Colts, $6 million of that guaranteed including a $4 million signing bonus.
Not bad for a guy who essentially lost his job to Aaron Donald, the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year last season. It’s not that Langford lacked ability — the Colts liked his run-stuffing skills enough to offer a four-year deal. That was the longest contract given to a Colts player in a busy free agency period that saw wide receiver Andre Johnson, running back Frank Gore, outside linebacker Trent Cole and inside linebacker Nate Irving also come to Indianapolis.
“Once I left St. Louis and signed with Indy, that was the past,” said Langford, 29. “I mean, I enjoyed my time there in St. Louis with the players and coaches and the great city of St. Louis, but it was time to move on. Life is a business, life happens and you just keep rolling.”
The free-agent departure of defensive leader Cory Redding meant the Colts coveted a replacement with experience. Langford, who now wears what was Redding’s No. 90 jersey, has played in 112 consecutive games, the league’s longest active streak for a defensive end or tackle.
He’s never missed an NFL game and started 90, all but four of those as a full-time starter for the first six seasons of a career that began with four years in Miami. His 49 tackles and five sacks were a career best in 2013, but then the Rams used him as a reserve in a dozen games and his numbers dropped to 25 tackles and one sack, both the second-lowest totals of his career.
He said he talked with Fisher “as a man” and told the coach “how he felt.” That was enough.
Langford gushes about the defensive line that he left, calling it “one of the best in the league, if not the best.”
But players want to play. The longer their careers, the more they realize it’s what is most important, perhaps as much as winning a Super Bowl ring.
That Langford joins a Super Bowl contender, in addition to getting paid, made the transition all the more smooth. The Colts were looking to bolster a run defense that has struggled in back-to-back playoff losses at New England.
On Saturday night, he’s looking forward to seeing some old friends.
“I mean, this isn’t my first rodeo,” he said. “I’m eight years in, so I definitely wouldn’t say it’s weird, but it’ll be fun to see some of the old guys and coaches.”
The Colts, like the Rams, are winless in two preseason games. Colts head coach Chuck Pagano hasn’t liked how his defenders have been tackling and made improvement an area of emphasis for this game.
Based on recent history, the Colts are expected to play most of their starters for at least the first half. Last season, most of the starters also played one series into the third quarter in the next-to-last preseason game.
“It’s the closest thing you can get to a regular season game just for the simple fact the playbook is opened up a little more,” Langford said. “You’re playing a little longer. It’s the closest thing you’re going to get to game week.”
As for the tackling concerns, Langford is confident the Colts defense will come around.
“I think every guy in here that made it to this level should know how to tackle by now,” he said. “It’s just finishing the play and getting as many guys to the ball as you can, where if one guy misses a tackle, his brother is there to back him up and make the tackle. That comes with a swarm mentality on defense, and that’s something we’re striving towards.”
Eyebrows might raise at Langford’s utmost confident — he said the Colts should be striving to be a top-five defense in the NFL. The Colts ranked 11th in total yards allowed and 19th in points allowed last season, when they reached the AFC Championship Game but were humiliated 45-7 by the eventual Super Bowl champion Patriots.
Alas, that’s in the past, just like Langford’s time in St. Louis.
“I’m just enjoying life,” he said. “I’m enjoying our opportunity, seizing the moment, the opportunity of this year, the chance to go out and contend for a championship. I’m just embracing it all and loving it.”
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.