GREEN BAY – If it were up to T.J. Lang, the Packers’ right guard would have been on the practice field the day training camp started on July 26.
That’s not how it works.
Knowing those decisions are out of his control, Lang obliged the training staff’s request to sit out the first week of camp after undergoing shoulder surgery this offseason.
After spending the first four practices on the physically unable to perform list, the eighth-year veteran returned to practice last Monday and has added to his workload each day.
Although Lang didn’t travel with the team to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game, he’s practicing with the mindset of playing this Friday against Cleveland.
Sure, there’s a little rust to knock off, but Lang has confidence in the shoulder and is already starting to feel like himself again on the practice field.
“As far as my shoulder and the repair, I think everything went really well and it feels great,” said Lang before Tuesday night’s practice. “I’ll start adding a little more. The goal is to go out there and play on Friday night. I think we’re on good pace for that.”
Lang is coming off arguably the best season of his NFL career. An accomplished pass-blocker, Lang took his game to the next level in 2015 despite the nagging shoulder injury.
The 28-year-old guard played a big part in the success the Packers had in the screen game last season, which saw running back James Starks set new career highs in catches (43) and receiving yards (392).
Lang sat out of one contest due to the shoulder (the Hail Mary game against Detroit on Dec. 3), but otherwise provided a calming presence on a line besieged by injury in 2015.
The Packers’ preferred starting five – Lang, left guard Josh Sitton, tackles David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga and center Corey Linsley – started only eight of 18 games (including playoffs) together last season.
One of those eight was the NFC Divisional playoff game against Arizona, which stood out as one of the line’s top performances of last season.
The unit hasn’t lined up yet together this summer with Linsley currently on PUP, but Lang is confident all the pieces will fit back together eventually.
“We haven’t all five been out there yet so it’s been a little bit of an abnormal start,” Lang said. “But I think we’ve played enough football together that once everybody’s healthy and back on the field, we can kind of pick up where we left off.
“Last year, when we were all in there during that last playoff game, we felt like we really played good football. So hopefully we can pick up where we left off last year.”
Lang feels this has been the most rest the team has received in his eight NFL training camp. It’s positive in terms of health, but it also increases the importance of making sure you get enough work in.
After a seven-month hiatus, Lang snuck in a few extra reps in a combo period last week. It’s those practice snaps that Lang feels gets a lineman back up to speed the fastest.
“Now that I have the confidence in it, I can start working on some other fundamentals and making sure I’m ready to go on Friday,” Lang said. “It’s hard for me to be standing there and not participating. I’m a competitive guy and I want to go out there and get better and kind of remind some people that I’m still the guy.”