Don't bet against T.J. Lang being in the starting lineup as a rookie.
After spending his true freshman season at Eastern Michigan playing on the defensive line, Lang was moved to offensive tackle on the first day of practice as a sophomore. He was named a starter from Day 1, and he went on to start the next 36 games for the Eagles.
"He's a very tough football player, a high-effort player," offensive line coach James Campen said during the draft. "As you know, he's a converted D-lineman, and he plays with a D-lineman's mentality. Very physical."
The "D-lineman's mentality" that had Lang surging up draft boards after not being invited to the Scouting Combine was a necessity for him as he made the defense-to-offense switch as a sophomore.
"I didn't really know any of the plays or anything, so I had to rely on being physical and being aggressive," Lang said. "I started using that to my strength, and I just built on that the last couple years."
Where Lang lines up when organized team activities begin this week — the first practice is today and Thursday's practice is open to reporters and, weather permitting, fans — will be one of the interesting story lines.
Lang started 10 games at right tackle as a sophomore before moving to left tackle to start the final two games. He started all 12 games at left tackle as a junior and senior. Lang figures to get looks at the vacant right tackle position as well as at both guard spots.
In college, Lang was moved to offense because the team had a shortage of linemen. It could be a similar story in Green Bay, which must replace longtime starter Mark Tauscher.
Of the candidates, none could be considered anything close to a clear favorite to win the job.
The coaches have raved about Breno Giacomini, but his NFL experience consists of one game-ending kneeldown in the finale last year as a rookie. He'll be limited (or sidelined) when OTAs begin because of offseason ankle surgery.
Tony Moll, who replaced Tauscher last season, was yanked from the lineup for the season finale against Detroit. He has seven career starts at right tackle, including two last year and five as a rookie in 2006.
The third candidate, Allen Barbre, will be moving from guard, where he failed to impress in two seasons. His athleticism and aggressiveness would seem to be a good fit, but he's yet to put it together.
So, why not Lang? At 6-foot-4 and 316 pounds, he's big enough. Eastern Michigan's spread offense incorporated zone-blocking principles in the run game, so his athleticism and ability to learn the Packers' offense aren't issues, either. He handled B.J. Raji during one-on-one pass-rushing drills during the one rookie practice that was open to the media.
"He's a really aggressive kid. He really likes physical contact," Eastern Michigan offensive line coach Kurt Anderson told Packer Report for a feature in the new magazine. "He's a competitor in every sense of the term. In the meeting rooms, he's very cerebral. When he's in the meeting room, he competes with the other guys in that line room in terms of just wanting to know more than everybody else. When he steps between the lines, he wants to prove that he's better than everyone else."
The obvious knock on Lang would be to point out the jump in competition between Eastern Michigan's Mid-American Conference foes and the NFL. Lang, however, matched up three times with Northern Illinois' Larry English — the Chargers' first-round pick and author of 31 career sacks. English didn't get a sack against Lang in those games.
Plus, Eastern Michigan had nonconference matchups against Michigan State, Maryland, Pittsburgh, Vanderbilt and Michigan during the last two seasons. On top of that, Anderson came to Eastern Michigan after coaching Michigan's Jake Long, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 draft by Miami. Anderson said Lang would have been the second-best lineman on that Michigan line.
"When guys kind of look down on me as being a smaller-school guy, I try not to think about it too much," Lang said. "But I know there is a little part of me that still feels like I have to prove myself being here with guys from the bigger schools. It's been a challenge and it's been a step up, but it's a step up for everybody. Everybody's in the NFL now. The beauty about being here is everybody's equal. It doesn't matter where you came from, whether it was Division I, national championship or Division III. Once you're here, everybody's equal and everybody's got the same opportunity to show what they've got."
A fourth option at right tackle would be Daryn Colledge. If Colledge makes that move, Lang would be a possibility to take over at left guard.
Either way, the Packers were thrilled that Lang was still on the board in the fourth round.
"He's a very fluid athlete," director of college scouting John Dorsey said. "He bends very nicely for an offensive lineman. He has the ability to play tackle and he's versatile enough where he can probably play guard, as well. I think he'll fit right in with the group of guys we have now. I think he has a big future ahead of him."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook.