Lang: ‘I have a lot to show, a lot to prove'

The scouts didn't think rookie T.J. Lang could play left tackle. Ready or not, he'll start at that position on Sunday in Cleveland. The early signs are promising. He held his own against Jared Allen and spearheaded the run game vs. Detroit.

T.J. Lang said what coach Mike McCarthy wouldn't: The rookie from Eastern Michigan will start at left tackle on Sunday at Cleveland.

In one snap against Cincinnati and fourth-quarter stints at Minnesota and last week against Detroit, Lang has done nothing to show he won't be up to the task of playing the most difficult position on the offensive line.

Even if the scouts thought otherwise.

"Short arms, saying I wasn't athletic enough," Lang, who wasn't invited to the Scouting Combine, recalled the scouts saying. "I try not to make too big of a deal of that because I'm coming out of college and going into the NFL. You know, I didn't know what to expect. I obviously felt that I had the athleticism. They were telling me my arms were too short. They didn't have confidence that I could play tackle. Everybody was telling me I could play guard. I have a lot to show, a lot to prove."

Lang has bounced around like a pinball since being drafted in the fourth round in April. He started off at right tackle, where the Packers needed a body behind Allen Barbre. When Breno Giacomini was ready to roll after offseason ankle surgery, the coaches thought three right tackles were too many, so Lang was moved to guard. After Chad Clifton went down with a sprained ankle in Week 2 against Cincinnati, Lang was moved to left tackle to back up new starter Daryn Colledge. When Lang replaced an injured Colledge against Minnesota and fared relatively well against Jared Allen, Lang supplanted Colledge as Clifton's backup.

And with Clifton listed as doubtful for Sunday after aggravating his sprained ankle last week, Lang moves into the starting lineup on an offensive line that has been blistered for a whopping 25 sacks. No doubt, the Browns' aggressive defensive coordinator, Rob Ryan, will put Lang to the test.

"It's funny, because coming out of college, all the scouts told me that I wasn't left tackle capable, that I would never play there," Lang said. "So, if you would have asked me that a couple months ago, I would have said you're crazy. It's been a fun journey for me, so far. Obviously, this is a big moment for me getting my first start in the NFL. I'm going to try to take full advantage of my opportunity and show the coaches and show my teammates that they can count on me when they call my number."

Lang was a second-team all-Mid-American Conference selection at left tackle as a senior at Eastern Michigan. Three times, he squared off against Northern Illinois' Larry English. Three times, English — who has two sacks as San Diego's first-round pick — didn't beat him for a sack.

So, while Lang isn't sure that left tackle is his best position, he is sure that it's the position at which he's most comfortable. Of his 36 consecutive starts at Eastern Michigan after moving from defensive line to offensive line, the final 26 were at left tackle.

Scout.com draft expert Chris Steuber says Lang has the athleticism to play left tackle and believe he will do a good job on Sunday. Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin agrees.

"Is he the ideal length for a prototype left tackle? I'm not sure about that," Philbin said. "But does he have the footwork probably to be a left tackle? It appears he may have that kind of footwork and agility."

Coincidentally or not, 69 of Ryan Grant's 90 rushing yards against Detroit came with Lang on the field. That was a strong follow-up performance to what Lang did at Minnesota, when he came in cold and with the Packers backed up near their goal line at the raucous Metrodome. While Lang was partially to blame for the sack that resulted in a safety, he certainly held his own against Allen. That Lang lacked that deer-in-the-headlights look impressed Aaron Rodgers.

"What I would say is that the first thing he said coming off the sideline, he had this energy about him," Rodgers said, "and he was confident and he said, ‘Don't worry about me, I'll be fine.' I went, ‘all right, good.' It felt good, instead of coming in, ‘all right, Monday Night Football, I have to block Jared Allen,' he came in with this confidence about him and you have to respect that and be encouraged by that."

How could he be so calm and confident when facing about the most difficult challenge imaginable for a lineman, much less a rookie who may or may not have the tools to play left tackle?

"I had to be," Lang said. "If I go out there looking all scared, they really won't have any confidence in me. I felt prepared back then. Obviously, I was thrown into a tough spot late in the game like that. I don't want them to really change anything when I go in there. I want the coaches to feel comfortable when I'm in there. I don't want them calling plays to help me. I want to show them that I'm confident that I can do my job when I'm called upon."

And that's exactly what Lang wants on Sunday. Just call the plays as if he's a proven veteran and the most-natural left tackle in the NFL.

"Sometimes, when you see young guys getting thrown in, people like to talk, ‘Hey, he needs help. He needs help,'" Lang said. "I haven't shown that yet. I just feel like I can get out there and do my job. I don't want anything to change game plan-wise."


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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 packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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