Packers' Lang making adjustments on and off field
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Tom Lang won't be at Lambeau Field on Christmas night to watch his son play against the Chicago Bears. In his weakened condition, he won't miss the crowds or the cold. Watching the game on TV, sharing a front-row seat with grandson John Joseph Lang, suits him just fine.
"Being cold and sitting outside with a bunch of rowdy Packers fans probably wouldn't be in his best interest," said T.J. Lang, Green Bay's third-year offensive lineman and J.J's dad. "I think it's more important that we're all together in the same house for the holidays."
That's because his 55-year-old father was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness in mid-November.
Lang is shifting from his usual left guard spot to right tackle against the Bears, doing his part on a patchwork offensive line that will try to protect MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers better than it did against Kansas City last week, when he was sacked four times in the team's first loss of the season.
Depending on what the San Francisco 49ers do against the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday, the Packers could still need a victory over the Bears to clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC and ensure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Lang hadn't taken a snap at right tackle all season after winning the left guard job in training camp, but was forced to switch to right tackle against the Chiefs after the Packers lost starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga to a kneecap injury and rookie first-round pick Derek Sherrod to a gruesome broken leg during the second half.
With veteran left tackle Chad Clifton sidelined since Oct. 9 with hamstring and back injuries, the Packers had no choice but to move Lang outside and bring Evan Dietrich-Smith off the bench to play left guard. With Clifton, Bulaga and Sherrod all out Sunday, the Packers will keep Herb Taylor, a tackle who was signed Tuesday and hasn't played in an NFL regular-season game since 2008, active as the emergency third tackle.
The Packers are confident Lang and Dietrich-Smith will make the adjustments to improve on their performance against the Chiefs.
"I don't think it'll be too big of a challenge," offensive line coach James Campen said of Lang's switch. "It probably was in the game a little bit, to go over there and get in a right-handed stance and start vertical setting and doing those things that he hadn't done in a long time. But I think he adjusts just fine (this week)."
Lang has been adjusting all season. He's been doing it on the field, where's he a full-time starter for the first time after two years as a backup, and off the field, where he became a first-time father in August and has been trying to stay focused since his father's diagnosis. Lang declined to identify the illness out of respect for his father's privacy.
Lang learned of his father's illness the morning of the Packers' Nov. 14 Monday Night Football game against the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field, but he played well before leaving the next morning for his father's home in suburban Detroit, where he spent a couple of days before returning to Green Bay.
Tom Lang could not attend the game when the Packers played the Lions at Ford Field on Thanksgiving, but his son stayed behind to spend the weekend after the team returned to Green Bay. This will be the first time Tom Lang has been strong enough to make the eight-hour drive to Green Bay. He, T.J.'s sister Megan and their mother, who is divorced from Tom but remains close, arrived in Green Bay on Thursday.
"He's had some good days, he has some tough days. It's hard on the whole family, really," T.J. Lang said. "Every day I talk to him, he's talking about little J.J. I know he's excited to be up here, and when we were home for Thanksgiving, you could tell his face really lit up when his grandson was sitting on his lap. That's going to be great for him."
It also wouldn't hurt if Lang, who started two games at left tackle and one at right tackle as a rookie in 2009, does a good job protecting Rodgers from Chicago defensive ends Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije.
"He knows what he's doing," coach Mike McCarthy said. "It's really the cross training in the early years — this is the product of it. You get in these types of situations, you have players that can make that transition. Having a full week of practice preparing on the right side will definitely (help). I feel confident T.J. will be ready to go."
The Packers are counting on it.
NOTES: Veteran defensive tackle Ryan Pickett still hasn't been cleared by doctors after sustaining a concussion Dec. 11 against Oakland and has been ruled out for the second straight week. Fellow defensive lineman Mike Neal is questionable with a shoulder injury. ... Running backs James Starks (knee/ankle) and Brandon Saine (concussion) are both listed as probable after the team had just one healthy running back, Ryan Grant, last week against Kansas City.