Most people are just assuming that Scott Wells’ replacement at center will come via free agency or next month’s draft, but after spending the past few days re-watching some games from last season, I’m beginning to believe the Packers might actually have a pretty good in-house candidate for the job. The more I watched T.J. Lang play left guard, the more I envisioned him having similar success a few feet to his right.
Lang started 14 games at left guard last season after spending the first two years of his professional career primarily as a backup tackle. The former Eastern Michigan star had some predictable ups and downs while making the transition inside, but for the most part, he did a very commendable job. That came as absolutely no surprise to me. Here’s a small snippet from a story I wrote last July: “As a rookie, Lang showed power in his punch and the ability to jolt defenders to the ground. He also showed some active hands and the ability to steer and control defenders. Those physical gifts, along with an extremely high football IQ, should give him a chance to not only replace [Daryn] Colledge at left guard if necessary, but perhaps upgrade the position as well.”
Lang did wind up playing better than Colledge, and while I don’t foresee him being as good as Wells in 2012, I can’t imagine him being too much of a downgrade. The problem with making this move is the hole that would then be created at left guard. But finding a starting guard – especially in the draft – is much easier than finding a starting center. In fact, after quarterback, no position is more challenging to play in this offense. The man with the football in his hands before every snap has an incredible amount of responsibilities. That’s why Jerry Fontenot, LeCharles Bentley, Jeremy Newberry and Scott Wells were Mike McCarthy’s starting centers in New Orleans, San Francisco and Green Bay respectively. He trusts veterans and those four players had all started at least 12 games prior to his arrival.
As for the left guard position, next month’s draft is filled with young men who could probably handle the job in 2012. Kevin Zeitler (Wisconsin), Amini Silatolu (Midwestern State), Brandon Brooks (Miami of Ohio), Tony Bergstrom (Utah), Will Blackwell (LSU), Derek Dennis (Temple), Joe Looney (Wake Forest) and Lucas Nix (Pitt) are just a few of the intriguing prospects who should be available in the second through fourth rounds. And unlike the center position, McCarthy has had no problem turning to inexperienced players at guard. In fact, Josh Sitton almost certainly would’ve been a starter on opening day in 2008 had he not suffered a knee injury very late in the preseason.
I still think it’s more likely that general manager Ted Thompson will replace Wells with a veteran free agent, but I thought the option of moving Lang was worth discussing. He already knows the offense, and at age 24, he would offer a long-term solution at the position as opposed to the band-aid that someone like Jeff Saturday would provide. Of course, Lang would be a long-term solution only if he agrees to an extension (he’s currently in the final year of his rookie contract). Otherwise, we could be having this exact same discussion a year from now. And nobody wants that.