Business as Usual with Lang, EDS

G T.J. Lang (Tom Dahlin/Getty)

Position coach James Campen doesn't buy into the premise that his group won't be as good with T.J. Lang moved to right tackle and Evan Dietrich-Smith having replaced Lang at left guard. Lang has played winning football at right tackle, and a matured Dietrich-Smith is eager for this opportunity.

As the starter, T.J. Lang was the team's best left guard.

As the starter, Bryan Bulaga was the team's best right tackle.

Therefore, logic would dictate the Green Bay Packers' offensive line isn't as good with Lang replacing the injured Bulaga at right tackle and Evan Dietrich-Smith replacing Lang at left guard.

Position coach James Campen isn't buying into that logic.

"No, I don't believe it is (a significant drop-off)," Campen said. "My whole thing is, the reason why I'm saying that is, and I truly believe this and I've said it to you guys 100 times, whoever's starting, they're expected to start and play as a starter. The backups should be ready to go and, if they have to go in, they're expected to play at a starting caliber. There is no compromise with that. There really isn't. There really is no compromise. They're expected to win."

Lang's got some experience playing right tackle. Last season, he shifted to right tackle against Kansas City, started the next week against Chicago on Christmas night and played most of the game there against Detroit in the regular-season finale. He was good against the Bears and dominated against the Lions. He also started one game at right tackle as a rookie in 2009.

Coach Mike McCarthy didn't change the game plan or his play-calling with Lang at right tackle last year and he's not going to change a thing for Sunday and beyond.

"When the head coach says that he doesn't have to change how he's calling things or we don't have to change a scheme, particularly because maybe he's not in-tune with or can't do something, I think that's a big plus, obviously," Campen said. "That's a high compliment from the head coach to the player, no question."

Going from the left side to the right side requires the opposite stance and opposite footwork. It's more than that, though. Going from guard to tackle means a different style of player to block. At guard, the defensive linemen are bigger, and there are more double-team blocks and stunts to handle, which means quick thinking is required. At end, it's typically one-on-one against a quicker defensive end.

"I thought I did OK," Lang said of his performance against Arizona. "There was one play that I gave up a quarterback hit at right tackle, but other than that, there were some good things. I'm definitely happy to get the chance this week to have a lot of snaps at practice to get better with the technique. Assignment-wise, I feel fine. It's my fourth year in the system now, so I feel sharp. It's just a matter of continuing to work on the technique and get better in that aspect."

For Dietrich-Smith, his career has come full circle in a sense. When he made the team as an undrafted rookie in 2009, the coaching staff quietly thought he had the goods to be the team's center of the future. Dietrich-Smith, however, didn't take his job seriously enough. In 2010, he didn't make the team, spent a month in Seattle without playing, and was out of football until the Packers brought him back on Dec. 31 — just in time for the Super Bowl run.

He came back a different person.

"I'm very proud of him," Campen said. "Really, when it shows is how he conducted himself in the offseason (leading up to the 2011 season) – training, planning, preparing to earn a roster spot. Those things worked out for him. It's no different for any of us. You get what you put into it. He's certainly reaping those rewards."

What happened in 2010 was the kick in the pants Dietrich-Smith needed.

"I had a daughter, I have a family, I'm married now. It wasn't like that beforehand," Dietrich-Smith said. "I was kind of going wild and just enjoying being in the NFL and stuff like that. You realize this is a job. This isn't something fun, like it used to be. People support their families by doing this job, and there's guys out there that are willing to take your job if you're willing to give it up so you've got to make sure you're doing something to earn it every day."

Dietrich-Smith made a solid impression while making his first three career starts last season, then parlayed that into an excellent training camp this summer. After Bulaga went down against Arizona, the offense didn't skip a beat.

"I have a lot of confidence in Evan," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "I think he's done a good job whenever he gets called on, whether it's center or guard. We believe he's going to be a big part of the future of the Packers' offensive line. It will be good for him to get some reps in at the start of the game. He did a good job last week coming in off the bench cold. He'll be ready to play."

With Jeff Saturday having celebrated his 37th birthday in June, there is a long-term need at center. Dietrich-Smith's sole focus is on Sunday's game, not long-term possibilities with restricted free agency awaiting.

"The personal stuff aside, it'll be fun playing some football," he said. "I had fun last season. The biggest thing I can draw off last season is my experience actually getting to start. You know the game speed, you know what it's got to be like and what you've got to put out there and the expectation that everybody has of you and we all have of each other. So, you've got to get out there and make sure you're playing (your best) because we're all about winning games.

"But it's fun to play. You kinda realize why you're doing what you're doing."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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