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With Bulaga out, Lang's versatility takes center stage

Nov. 6, 2012
 
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) celebrates with offensive lineman T.J. Lang (70) after Rodgers throws a touchdown in the first quarter during a game against the Arizona Cardinals at Lambeau Field in Green Bay on Sunday, November 4, 2012. Lukas Keapproth/Press-Gazette
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) celebrates with offensive lineman T.J. Lang (70) after Rodgers throws a touchdown in the first quarter during a game against the Arizona Cardinals at Lambeau Field in Green Bay on Sunday, November 4, 2012. Lukas Keapproth/Press-Gazette

This scenario isn’t new to T.J. Lang, but it had been awhile.

When right tackle Bryan Bulaga went down with a hip injury on the Packers’ fourth offensive series in Sunday’s eventual 31-17 win over Arizona, the Packers’ backup plan went into effect.

With Evan Dietrich-Smith serving as the next offensive lineman up in any situation, the third-year pro moved in at left guard while Lang bumped out from his usual starting spot to right tackle.

For the next 50 offensive plays, that’s where Lang stayed and played perhaps his best game of the season.

“For some it may be more of a transition, but after a couple plays he did well” Packers offensive line coach James Campen said.
“I don’t think it’s a huge thing for him, so if he has to play out there first and foremost next week he’ll get a lot of reps out there. But again, we don’t know what’s up with Bryan.”

It was the first time Lang had played right tackle since starting in place of Bulaga last Christmas against Chicago, but he's been the epitome of versatility during his time in Green Bay.

During his rookie year in 2009, Lang played all 16 games and saw action at both tackle spots. The following year, he even saw time on defense when the team was running out of healthy bodies on the defensive line.

On Sunday, Lang's depth was invaluable. Despite not having one of their most reliable lineman, the Packers’ makeshift line held their ground.

Playing a Cardinals’ defense that entered tied for the league-lead in sacks, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers wasn’t sacked once following Bulaga’s departure. On the ground, the Packers’ run game registered 176 yards, which marked its best production since gaining 202 yards against Cleveland on Oct. 25, 2009.

“For not getting a whole lot of practice at this position, I thought he did very well,” said Packers offensive coordinator Tom Clements of Lang. “The more versatility you have, it's helpful in case you run into situations like this. There are some guys who are strictly one-position guys. But TJ has played I think most every position on the line other than center in a game, so his versatility is a bonus for us.”

Bulaga's status remains unclear as he was still undergoing testing Monday, which is usually a sign that the injury is significant.

While both Lang and Dietrich-Smith proved serviceable on Sunday, the Packers’ two other reserve linemen – undrafted rookies Don Barclay and Greg Van Roten – are relatively raw and inexperienced.

Lang has been playing through his own elbow and wrist injuries the past couple weeks, forcing him to wear a protective brace on his right elbow.

On Sunday, Lang admitted he felt “a lot of pain” playing through the injury, but was looking forward to having the week off during the bye.

If Bulaga is still out when the Packers return to practice next Monday, Lang is ready to fill the void.

“It’s been a while since I’ve played out there, but it’s something I’m familiar with,” Lang said. “I’ve had a lot of snaps there the last three years. I think I started a game there last year and played a lot of snaps there. When Bryan went out, we knew we had to adjust and I thought I did a nice job. For the most part, we adjusted pretty nicely.”
-whodkiew@greenbaypressgazette.com and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.

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