Much has been said about the Packers' desire to end the merry-go-round that disrupted the offensive line last season.
On Tuesday, rookie T.J. Lang rode that merry-go-round right into the starting lineup at a position that he'd never played.
With starting left guard Daryn Colledge missing both of Tuesday's practices with a thigh injury, Lang went from No. 2 right guard and No. 3 right tackle to No. 1 left guard.
"They talked to me this morning and said, ‘You're going to be running left guard with the ones,'" Lang, a fourth-round pick from Eastern Michigan, said following Tuesday morning's practice. "I wasn't really expecting it (Monday) night or (Tuesday) morning but I had to make some adjustments on the fly. Really, the biggest trouble was just flipping the plays. When you play right guard and hear one play, you're thinking, ‘I'm doing this.' At left guard and you hear the same play, you've got to think a little bit more. It wasn't a major adjustment. I played left side in college so I was pretty comfortable."
The promotion — even it it's only for a few practices — speaks volumes to what the Packers think of Lang. When Colledge went down on Monday, veteran Duke Preston — who started 11 games last season for Buffalo — filled the void. On Tuesday, however, the coaches went with Lang, who hadn't taken a snap on the left side of the line since being drafted by Green Bay.
"He's a jack of all trades," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "We think the kid's a bright kid. Background-wise, he's got experience at tackle, he's got experience at guard. So, we've thrown him around at a couple of different positions. We've been impressed with his ability to grasp what we're teaching from schematic standpoints. Is he perfect yet fundamentally? No. Sometimes, you've just got to function at practice and hope the guys are going in the right directions and looking for the right guys, and he's shown the ability to do that. We like his versatility."
Lang brings an interesting combination of size (6-foot-4, 316 pounds) and athletic ability. He's obviously smart, too. The Packers drafted two linemen in 2008, Josh Sitton in the fourth round and Breno Giacomini in the fifth. Sitton only plays right guard and Giacomini only plays right tackle. Lang, meanwhile, has been playing right guard and right tackle from Day 1, has added left guard to his repertoire and said he'd be willing to go to left tackle in a pinch.
It was a challenging two practices on Tuesday for Lang, whose flip-flopping from right to left was amplified by alternating at right tackle with the second-string offense to left guard with the starting offense.
"Going from tackle to guard, you've got to change your mind-set, because you're going from going against fast, skinnier guys on the outside to big, strong guys on the inside. It's a big mental game," he said.
During Tuesday night's heated and physical practice, Lang spent much of the workout tangling with starting defensive end Cullen Jenkins. Jenkins won most of those matchups, but he's been dominating whoever's been thrown at him throughout camp. Lang, however, showed his potential by handling Jenkins on a couple of nice runs and by picking up a stunt between Jenkins and Jeremy Thompson. He also showed his feisty demeanor by being one of the first on the scene during a fight triggered by Brady Poppinga's hit on Kregg Lumpkin.
Lang called his performance in the morning "OK" (players are not available to reporters after the night practice) but said knowing what he's doing mentally is the important thing at this point.
"As long as you know where you're going and what you're doing, you can always perfect your technique," he said.
Even if Lang doesn't challenge Sitton or Barbre for a starting job right away, his ability to play multiple spots makes him a key figure as the coaches have to figure out how to get from 53 players on the regular roster to the 45-man gameday roster.
"His body type is such that I think he's got enough size and hopefully the strength to play inside and it looks like he's got some nice feet and he can block some edge people on the outside," Philbin said. "That's always a consideration. He's the kind of guy with a body type that might lend itself to being able to fit in at potentially more than one spot."
As for his debut in the starting lineup, Lang admitted that he experienced one of those one-of-a-kind rookie moments. His words showed the passion he has for the game and his desire to be the best he can be.
"Yeah, actually, there was one play today, I was sitting in the huddle and I looked around and I kind of took it all in," he said with a grin. "I saw Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, Aaron Rodgers, Ryan Grant in the huddle and it kind of made me smile a little bit. Also, within me, I knew I had to step it up a little bit. I didn't want to let those guys down. It was fun getting in there with the ones."
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