The Metrodome was roaring with jet engine ferocity, the Green Bay Packers were backed up near their own end zone and Minnesota’s Jared Allen was licking his chops at the prospect of facing a third-string rookie left tackle coming in cold off the bench.
It’s hard to imagine a more hostile setting for T.J. Lang‘s first extensive action at left tackle. And while he didn’t dominate, he didn’t panic, either.
“Coming off the sideline, he had this energy about him, and he was confident and he said, ‘Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine,”‘ quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “I went, ‘All right, good.’ It felt good, instead of (him) 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.”
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While Lang didn’t completely shut down Allen the rest of the way in the Packers‘ Oct. 5 loss to Minnesota, he did play well enough to help them nearly make a fourth-quarter comeback. Lang got another shot at left tackle in Sunday’s win over the Detroit Lions and played even better.
Now, with veteran Chad Clifton sitting out practice this week after re-injuring his right ankle against the Lions, Lang could be the starter in Sunday’s game at Cleveland.
Lang wasn’t available for comment during the Packers‘ media availability Thursday – he was doing extra film work – but teammates and coaches praised his play.
While the prospect of starting a rookie fourth-rounder at left tackle usually doesn’t bode well for a team with playoff expectations, Rodgers said he has confidence in Lang.
“He’s a got a lot of energy,” Rodgers said. “He’s got a high motor and a lot of confidence. Those are very important things for a lineman to have. He has a lot of confidence in his abilities, which as a quarterback makes you feel good that he’s back there and believes in himself and believes he can get the job done.”
Besides, the Packers already have allowed an NFL-worst 25 sacks this season – how much worse could Lang possibly be?
Lang, a fourth-round pick out of Eastern Michigan, made his debut against St. Louis on Sept. 27. But that was only for one play, after Daryn Colledge lost his shoe and had to leave the field.
Colledge filled in for Clifton again against the Vikings, but had a rough first three quarters against Allen before leaving the game with an injury.
Lang stepped in and Packers coaches liked what they saw.
“That’s a difficult situation to go into,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “A big game like that on the road, Monday Night Football and the team’s behind, you’re in a 2-minute drill and you’re pass-blocking a damn good pass rusher. I was very pleased with what I saw in Minnesota, and he stepped in there (Sunday) and played well.”
Lang got another shot late in Sunday’s 26-0 victory over Detroit after Clifton, who returned to the starting lineup after missing two games, reinjured his ankle in the third quarter.
With the Packers sitting on a big lead and trying to run out the clock, Lang wasn’t tested extensively in pass protection. The few times he was, the Packers didn’t often add a running back or tight end on Lang’s side to provide blocking help.
And Lang showed impressive run-blocking ability on the Packers‘ final two possessions, consistently manhandling Lions right defensive end Cliff Avril, driving defensive tackle Grady Jackson out of the middle on a pair of plays and even getting to a linebacker to spring Ryan Grant for a 22-yard gain, his longest run of the season.
“He’s smart, he pays attention to detail and he does things the right way,” offensive line coach James Campen said. “To say that we’re surprised at his performance, maybe a little. (Lang) playing left tackle and having a full week of it certainly helped him, and he’ll practice there all week this week. He did a good job.”