It might not be until training camp before T.J. Lang takes one practice snap with his new teammates on the Detroit Lions’ offensive line, but he already has made an impact.
What Lang said in his first conversation with the linemen ought to be remembered for how he told them he was joining a unit that ought to be good.
Lang related his conversation in a conference-call interview with the Detroit media last weekend.
“The last thing I relayed to them all was, I really think we can form one of the best units in the league with all the talent we have,” is how Lang recalled the conversation.
“I thought it was very impressive last year with how much shuffling they had to do, and how they were still able to handle it, being such a young group.”
Look, a lot of things get said, written, analyzed and predicted when players change teams – especially when it’s a veteran like Lang who’s returning to play for his hometown team. There’s always a bright side, and a positive storyline, when landing with a new team.
But there’s another side to it when it involves a player like Lang. He has stature. He didn’t have to say a word. His record in Green Bay speaks for itself – eight times in the playoffs in eight seasons with the Packers, five NFC North titles in the last six years and a Super Bowl championship in the 2010 season.
Lang has played in the biggest games, with the most pressure, under the brightest lights – and on an offensive line that had the responsibility of protecting quarterback Aaron Rodgers, a certain Hall of Famer.
All of that experience will be valuable on a unit that also added veteran free agent Rick Wagner as an upgrade at right tackle.
The offensive line is considered the heartbeat on most teams. The guys up front are appreciated where it matters the most – in the locker room, by the quarterbacks, running backs and pass catchers who are allowed to make the highlight plays when they do their jobs with little fanfare.
One man’s opinion: The Lions offensive line is still searching to find an identity. A player of Lang’s caliber – and natural personality – can help build that in a way no coach can. It’s something that comes from within the group.
When Lang says he can be part of “one of the best units in the league,” it should resonate with his new teammates.
Leaders: The Lions of 2017 have a different makeup than the team defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch and wide receiver Nate Burleson joined when they signed as veterans in 2010.
See which players joined the Lions' 2017 opponents this offseason.
Those two players had experience with the coaching staff, and they also had leadership qualities that were badly needed at the time. The 2010 team was coming off the dreadful Lost Decade that bottomed out with the historic 0-16 record in 2008 and actually considered a 2-14 record in 2009 a bounce back year.
Vanden Bosch and Burleson made an immediate impact with their work ethic and toughness. Stephen Tulloch was added to the mix in 2011 to start at middle linebacker.
Those three were part of a gradual turnaround that saw the Lions get to 6-10 in 2010 and 10-6 in 2011 with a Wild Card playoff berth.
The Lions haven’t gotten to where they want to be – winning a division title and winning in the postseason – but they’ve been playoff contenders more often than not the last six years.
In short, the Lions have gotten to the hump. Now they have to get over it.
Stafford aging – relatively: At the age of 29, Matthew Stafford is now the second oldest starter on the Lions’ offense. Lang, who turns 30 on Sept. 20, is 140 days older than Stafford.
Only four position players on the roster are 30 or over – Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (33), safety Glover Quin (31), safety Don Carey (30) and tight end Darren Fells (30). Also over 30 are long snapper Don Muhlbach (35) and kicker Matt Prater (31).