New Packers deal a sign of Lang's progress
For Green Bay Packers guard T.J. Lang, the razzing was meant in good fun - relentless as it was.
One day after Lang agreed to a four-year contract extension, his teammates wouldn't let it rest.
''Ask him about the Brinks truck,'' center Jeff Saturday joked as reporters gathered around Lang's locker Tuesday afternoon. ''I heard it beeping!''
Then, the veteran offered Lang some advice on how to open his interview: ''I'm rich!''
Lang took it all in stride, noting that the camaraderie with his teammates was one of the main reasons it was important for him to stay in Green Bay.
''Most of those guys have more money than I do, so I don't know why they're ragging on me,'' Lang joked. ''It was a fun day. Coming in this morning, I was excited to get upstairs and sign the deal. Today has been an awesome day for me and my family. Even though my teammates like to give me a hard time, they're all supportive. It's been awesome. It's been a fun day.''
The new deal with the Packers (No. 1 in the AP Pro32), reportedly worth nearly $21 million, was a reflection of the maturity Lang has developed on and off the field over the past three seasons. A fourth-round pick out of Eastern Michigan in 2009, Lang started only three games over his first two years in the league.
In hindsight, he acknowledges that he simply wasn't dedicated enough.
''I'm still young now,'' Lang said. ''But back then, 21, had a lot of money, single guy, didn't really know what to do other than go out and have some fun. Which to me at the time I didn't think it was a problem, but looking back on it now, I'm kind of dumbfounded, how I didn't think that was an issue. I definitely made some big changes outside of the workplace, and I think that allowed me to change my work habits in the stadium.''
To get serious about football, Lang realized he had to cut down on his nights on the town.
''I was 21, living downtown, going out three, four nights a week sometimes,'' Lang said. ''I still like to have a little fun now and then, but at the appropriate times - not the night before a practice. But looking back on it, I really didn't understand why I was doing it. I didn't think it was a problem back then, but looking back, it's like I'm lucky to still be here.''
Packers coach Mike McCarthy praised Lang's progress after a ''bumpy'' start to his career.
''He's a young man that's earned it,'' McCarthy said. ''He's definitely someone we targeted as one of our core players. With that, I look for T.J. to grow as a person, player and even as a leader on our team.''
The move to tie down Lang further reinforces a strong offensive line with Bryan Bulaga at right tackle, Josh Sitton at right guard and Saturday at center. There's only one real significant question facing the Packers' line going into the season: Can Marshall Newhouse be the starting left tackle for a Super Bowl contender?
If Newhouse plays well, there's no reason to think the Packers' high-octane offense will slow down any time soon.
Offensive line coach James Campen said Lang has become a key cog for the Packers.
''He made that step, to his credit,'' Campen said. ''And he's continued to put the pedal down, saying, `Look, I want to be darn good at this.' And he's a good football player. He's the type of guy, if you're in a pinch somewhere, you want T.J. Lang standing behind you because he'll be the first guy in to help.''
After a so-so first two seasons in the league, Lang claimed a starting spot last year.
''I understood this time last year, I needed to get a starting spot or my spot on the roster was going to be in jeopardy,'' Lang said. ''I was devoted 100 percent working as hard as I could all of last year. Once I became a starter, I wanted to improve my technique and fundamentals and grow game-by-game. I think I did that, especially toward the end of the year. I think my strongest years are still ahead of me.''
New deal in hand, Lang now has significant plans: Buying a new house for his mother and three younger brothers.
''She's always been a hard worker,'' Lang said. ''I grew up in a family that never really had a lot of money, it's just something for her, I'm so appreciative of her that's the best way I can show my appreciation for her. And I've talked to her about it before. I think not only is this helping me out a ton, it allows me to help my family out, which I really care about.''
Lang said he learned a tough life lesson near the end of last season, when his father died after a sudden illness.
''It's just something that kind of made me open up my eyes, I've really got to appreciate the people that care for me and love me,'' Lang said. ''Because obviously, like my dad, he was gone real quick last year. So I think that's something that hit me, don't forget about those people that have been supporting me my whole life. Take care of them when you get the chance.''
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