GREEN BAY - Every year, members of the Green Bay Packers liken the start of the offseason program to the feeling young people have on the first day of school, and the locker room inside Lambeau Field blends laughter, excitement and fresh faces.
Such was the case this week when the Packers gathered without the likes of Julius Peppers, Micah Hyde, Eddie Lacy, James Starks, JC Tretter and T.J. Lang, among others. The newcomers — tight ends Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks, defensive end Ricky Jean Francois — are tasked with acclimating to their new environment.
When it comes to production, virtually all of the aforementioned departures were significant. And when it comes to the locker room, the absence of Lang stands out above the rest.
“You get older in the league and every time you step in the locker room there’s a few guys missing,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “I talked to T.J. this morning. Not having him in there is different, it’s definitely a big change.”
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A leader with toughness as much as talent, Lang wore many hats for offensive line coach James Campen. He was a pillar at right guard and started 94 games over the last eight years. He was an enforcer after the whistle and stood up for his teammates. Without his pads, Lang was one of the team’s loudest voices inside the locker room.
“I’ll say I have nothing but respect for T.J.,” left tackle David Bakhtiari said. “I texted him a lot throughout the process and I’m happy for him, happy for him and his family. I know he’ll be missed not only among the players but in the media and the staff and everyone. He gave us eight solid years. Detroit got a really good player.”
The new alpha, according to Bakhtiari, is right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who turned 28 in March and started at least 12 games in five of his first six years in the league. Bulaga turned in perhaps the finest season of his career in 2016 as he and Bakhtiari formed one of the finest tandems in the league.
“To be one of the older guys in the room now is different,” said Bakhtiari, who is entering his fifth season. “But I feel like the guys before me helped lay a good foundation of what to expect from the older men once they step up. I’m excited. It’s Bryan’s offensive line room, hands down. I’m just excited to help execute what he wants. I’m very confident with the guys we have in the room moving forward.”