Lang's Ready To Shift From Playbook To Pads


Like almost all players in the trenches after five weeks of OTAs and mini-camp practices, rookie offensive lineman T.J. Lang is eager to put the pads on in training camp, so the physical element returns to the game.

But Lang is also looking forward to the mental side of things changing in camp as well. Specifically, knowing what he's doing every snap rather than having to stop and think about it.

"That was the biggest challenge throughout the first couple weeks of OTAs -- every day we'd have a new install, so it was like every day you're learning a new playbook," Lang said during the team's mandatory mini-camp last week. "It definitely will start to slow down a little bit, now that we have all the plays in."

Lang, the fourth-round draft choice out of Eastern Michigan, has been lauded by the coaching staff for how quickly he has picked up the offensive scheme and shown that he belongs at the NFL level. But that doesn't mean the work has been as easy as Lang has made it look.

It's been a mental grind, and it's not unusual for rookies on both sides of the ball to say they learn as many plays in one day of offseason work in the pros as they do in an entire season in college.

To be immersed in that while also adjusting to the speed of the pro game can feel overwhelming, but the trick is not looking overwhelmed on the field. Lang, a left tackle his final two seasons in college, spent most of the OTAs as the right tackle with the No. 2 offensive line and also took his share of snaps at guard. At right tackle, he was usually blocking outside linebackers in the Packers' new 3-4 defensive scheme, namely Aaron Kampman and Brady Poppinga.

"A couple reps I got against Aaron coming off the edge there, it was a whole new world," Lang said. "Big, strong, fast. I've never really seen that before coming off the edge.

"He's definitely gotten under me a few times, and it was an eye opener that shows you, 'Hey, you have to bring it every play.' You can't take reps off at this level. I'm fortunate to get to go against a guy like that. It's just going to make me better in the long run."

Despite that occasional "welcome to the NFL" moment, Lang has impressed the coaches with his poise for a young player.

"He doesn't get phased," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "He seems very bright, and he doesn't seem to be taken aback by, 'Oh my gosh, I've got to play tackle and Aaron Kampman is rushing against me.' He kind of goes about his business the way you like an offensive lineman to. So far, so good."

Lang hopes to be even better during training camp, when he'll be heavily involved in the open competition for the starting right tackle spot with Allen Barbre, Breno Giacomini and perhaps Tony Moll.

He expects the speed of the game to climb another notch with live, full-padded contact. But he also expects to adjust to that more rapidly because he won't be learning the playbook. He'll be reviewing it instead, which will make a big difference.

{sportsad300}"Everybody is just so much faster, so you can't really delay at this level," Lang said. "If you're thinking too much, you're just going to get run right by, especially guys coming off the edge. If you're a half-second late off the ball, that guy is past you.

"It really fits into learning the plays too. Once you learn the plays and understand the snap count, you can get off (on time) and just play football. If you're thinking and you're late, you really have no chance to win that battle."

As for Lang's chances to win a starting job in his rookie camp, don't bet against him. He began his Eastern Michigan career as a defensive lineman and became a starter on the offensive line his sophomore year before ever playing a collegiate game at the position.

His adjustment then was seamless, and all indications so far are that he's adapting to the pro game just fine. Unless the coaching staff decides to radically expand the playbook in training camp, he feels he'll be as caught up with the rest of the competition at right tackle as he can be, mentally and physically.

"I know the plays, I know what I'm doing," he said. "It's just letting the talent take over, and it's been an interesting ride so far.

"We've got pretty much the whole offense installed now, so there's no more surprises. It's just a matter of getting comfortable with the plays, and getting out there and playing football."

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