Allen Park — There’s a difference between fear and caution. Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell made it clear he wouldn’t let the fear of injuries dictate preseason playing time, saying players can’t be treated like pheasants under glass. At the same time, the team has been abundantly cautious with some of its star players dealing with injuries.
Tight end Eric Ebron has been sidelined more than three weeks with a hamstring strain, defensive end Ziggy Ansah remains on the physically unable to perform list, and guard T.J. Lang, a prized free-agent addition, has been handled with kid gloves while working his way back from offseason hip surgery.
But it appears Lang’s bubble wrap is finally coming off.
After sitting out the majority of the team’s practices the past couple weeks, including a pair of joint sessions with the Indianapolis Colts, Lang made his preseason debut Saturday against the New York Jets.
Lang played three offensive series, totaling 18 snaps, giving everyone their first look at Detroit’s projected starting offensive line for the rapidly approaching regular season.
The trial run proved to be a success for Lang’s surgically repaired hip.
“Yeah, I think I’ve said it, it’s the first camp in a while that I’ve felt pretty good health-wise,” Lang said. “I’m always going to have some small things I’m going to have to stay on top of, maintenance-wise, but overall health, it feels great. Looking forward to adding a little bit more, week by week, and hopefully being full speed sometime here soon.”
Since signing with the Lions — his hometown team — in March, Lang has had to balance patience with understanding. He’s fully submitted to the training and coaching staff’s practice routine recommendations, despite the nagging desire to push the pace to accelerate the building of on-field chemistry with his new teammates.
“I was getting a little uneasy — a new team, new system, playing next to new guys,” Lang said. “I felt like I was missing some valuable reps with them at practice while I was resting my hip. At the same time, I get it, I understand. The goal is to keep everyone healthy for 16 games, plus playoffs. It’s easy looking at the big picture, but for me, I didn’t want to be a step behind anyone else once I got back to full speed.”
Lang didn’t show any noticeable rust against the Jets as the Lions scored two of the three possessions he was on the field, capping his night with an 11-play, 78-yard touchdown drive.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford, who also left the game after the third offensive series, finished his night 8-10 for 84 yards and a touchdown. He was sacked just once when running back Ameer Abdullah was overwhelmed by a blitzing linebacker.
After the game, Stafford praised the pocket his line gave him to work.
Lang was back on the practice field Monday, at least for the portion that was open to the media, as the team prepares for its third preseason game, a home tilt with the New England Patriots.
While it won’t count any more than the other exhibition games, the third contest is typically viewed as a trial run for the regular season. With that in mind, Lang is hoping to play at least the first half as he ramps up his football conditioning.
“We haven’t really talked about playing time yet, but I’m hoping I can at least get in there for the first half,” Lang said. “This week is all about simulating what goes on during the regular season — everything from meetings, practice, schedule — kind of getting more into game planning. I’m hoping I can be in there.
“Hopefully, (the starting offensive line) can get as many snaps as we can, however long the coaches want us to play, because we’re still in that chemistry-building phase right now,” he said. “I think the more the merrier. It will only benefit us.”
The Lions host the defending champion Patriots at Ford Field Friday at 7 p.m.