The Green Bay Packers gave away a Pro Bowl guard at the end of training camp.
They might have another in veteran T.J. Lang.
It’s early but Lang, an eighth-year pro, is having perhaps the best season of his excellent career. Healthy again following offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum, Lang has been a lynchpin on the Packers’ perennially underrated offensive line.
“I’m pretty happy with the start that I’ve had,” Lang said on Thursday, a few days before a showdown vs. Dallas. “I think each week I’ve progressed a little bit, which is definitely what you’re looking for.”
Fairly or not, Lang always played second-fiddle to Sitton on the offensive line. That’s a shame, because Lang is coming off back-to-back strong seasons. According to STATS, Lang gave up two sacks and was penalized twice (both for holding) in 2014. Last year, despite the injury, he only gave up 1.5 sacks and was penalized twice (once for holding).
Unlike when he was a young backup, Lang’s a bit of a perfectionist. Rather than focus on what he’s done right, it’s the few bad plays that bother him. There haven’t been too many bad plays to start this season, though. Other than one holding penalty, Lang hasn’t done much wrong. On Aaron Ripkowski’s memorable 13-yard run to convert a third-and-1 vs. the Giants, it was Lang who blew open a hole for Ripkowski to get the first down with ease. According to Football Outsiders, the Packers rank third in up-the-middle runs and sixth in right-tackle runs, meaning the offense is making plenty of hay when running in Lang’s vicinity.
The strong start should be a harbinger of better things to come, based on Lang’s history.
“There’s definitely still a lot of room for improvement, no doubt about it,” Lang said. “Just looking at the past couple years, thinking back grading-wise, I’ve always been a guy who’s kind of gotten off to a slow start. I don’t know if I attribute that to my first couple years I was playing, I had a new right tackle and a new center next to me pretty much every single year.
“I’m pretty happy with the results but it’s all about consistency in this league. I know I’ve set a standard, not only for myself, like the group has set a standard for our unit. We’ve got to continue to get better. It’s only going to get more challenging. It’s just maintaining that, getting better and being consistent and not having any of those dips in the play. I’ve still got a lot of football left to go. It’s week by week but I feel like I’ve been pretty solid.”
At age 29, Lang is on top of his game as he enters his final season under contract. Against the Giants, he made his 85th career regular-season start.
“I think T.J.’s improved steadily over the last four years,” offensive line coach James Campen said. “As you get older and you move on, you learn things that you weren’t so privy to when you were 23 years old. I think those things in combination with he’s played a lot of football, he’s seen a lot of things, and he takes good care of himself off the field and he does things the right way. So, it doesn’t surprise me that he has continued to improve.”
It’s helped that Lang is healthy. Well, relatively healthy. He was limited participation on Thursday with an injured hip. Offensive linemen are renowned for their toughness. Lang personified that toughness last year while playing through a torn labrum. He missed only the Hail Mary win at Detroit, when the pain became too much to tolerate. Otherwise, he was the team’s best lineman. The pain is mostly gone, which obviously helps. Being able to practice day after day is a big deal, too, to hone the techniques needed to combat specific players and schemes on Sundays.
“I haven’t really had any issues,” Lang said. “Something Doc alerted me to back in training camp was you might not feel right for about a year. That’s how it is with guys coming off surgery, but my response was, ‘It can’t possibly be any worse than what it was the last couple years.’ Yeah, there’s still times where it bugs me a little bit and gets a little sore, but it is a huge difference. It definitely sucked going through all that rehab and the training and the surgery, but definitely something that I’m very happy that I took care of because I really feel the benefits of it now.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.