T.J. Lang wasn't laughing when he missed out on an invite to the NFL Scouting Combine in February. But he's laughing now.
Two months after the Eastern Michigan offensive tackle was told he was one vote shy of joining college football's elite prospects at the annual scouting meat market in Indianapolis, he was tabbed by the Packers with the ninth pick in the fourth round of the NFL Draft, No. 109th overall.
"I was a little disappointed at first," Lang said. But now? "It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter where guys came from once you get to camp."
It remains to be seen where the 6-foot-4, 320-pound Lang, a former defensive tackle, will play for the Packers. Beginning with rookie orientation and continuing through OTA's (organized team activities) and training camp, offensive line coach James Campen will be evaluating Lang to see if he fits better at tackle, guard or even center. While versatility is always a valued commodity, given the musical chairs along the offensive line last year it, would be nice to see Lang focus on one spot, something Campen agreed with.
"He provides a lot of flexibility, but we'd like to hone him in on one position," Campen said.
Given the uncertain status of veteran Mark Tauscher, that position could be right tackle, where Lang would battle Tony Moll, Breno Giacomini, Josh Sitton and fifth-round pick Jamon Meredith for the starting spot, pending Tauscher's future.
Though Lang played in the Mid-American Conference against lesser competition than seen in the BCS conferences, the Packers have never shied away from selecting players from smaller programs. Lang started 36 consecutive games for the Eagles, including the last 26 at the left tackle slot. He registered 169 knockdowns and 21 blocks that led to touchdowns during his junior and senior years. Lang also performed well against Northern Illinois linebacker Larry English, who went 16th in the first round to San Diego.
"Well, I played against Larry for three years and never gave up a sack to him," Lang said. "But we definitely had our battles. He was a tough player and we had a mutual respect for each other. He was definitely one of top guys I went against."
Versatility and ‘English lessons' aside, there was plenty more the Packers liked about Lang, including his strength (30 reps of 225 pounds), intelligence (Campen noted his retention when they drew up plays on a dry-erase board during his visit), and that he's big enough to drive block but played in a zone-blocking scheme.
A team captain at EMU, Campen called Lang a quiet leader and motivator with an infectious type of play. He mentioned his appreciation and respect for the game of football, and even relayed a funny story about Lang that occurred during lunch at Lang's predraft visit.
"We were sitting there eating lunch upstairs and he pointed over and saw (outside linebackers coach) Kevin Greene. And he kept looking over then asked (assistant offensive line coach) Jerry (Fontenot) and I, ‘Is that Kevin Greene?' We said yeah it is, and he said ‘Wow, I'm in the same room with Kevin Greene.' So, of course, we went over to Kevin and set him up a little bit. We told Kevin that T.J. thinks he can take you one-on-on, so Kevin stared him down and had some fun with that.
"But (T.J.'s) a character himself. He has a great attitude and telling you that story, this kid has great respect for the game. He walked around here and saw (the pictures of) all the great players on the wall and seeing a player like Kevin Greene and acknowledging his presence and what he accomplished in his career, it tells you a lot about this kid's character. He respects the game and wants nothing but the best for the game."
We'll know soon enough if Lang's best can earn him a starting spot in Green Bay.
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W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at email@example.com.