Allen Park — A month ago, T.J. Lang was saying this is the best he’s felt in five years, but the Detroit Lions offensive guard’s status heading into the regular season once again is shrouded in mystery as the missed practices stack up.
It’s been more than a week since Lang has practiced, having suffered a lower-leg injury in the first week of training camp.
“I’m kind of taking things day by day,” Lang said Wednesday. “I know there’s been a lot of speculation about me not being out there, but I’ve been doing a lot of work with certain people, so far, the past couple weeks. I guess all I can really say is there’s nothing serious going on.
“I’m just kind of being cautious right now with the training staff — trainers, doctors,” Lang continued. “My plan this year, right now, is take it day by day, get healthy and do my best to be out there for Week 1, which I think is definitely the goal right now.”
Lang’s injury history is staggeringly long. While in Green Bay, he was hampered by an ankle injury for a month in 2014, battled a shoulder injury the final two months of the 2015 campaign and it was a combination of neck, calf, hip and foot issues that limited his practice participation throughout the 2016 season.
Despite offseason surgery to repair his hip, the Lions still opted to roll the dice on the 29-year-old lineman in free agency last year. He was held out of the early portion of the offseason program and once training camp rolled around, he practiced only sporadically.
That cautious approach did little to prevent new problems from arising.
Lang appeared in 13 games for Detroit in 2017, managing to earn to his second consecutive Pro Bowl nomination. That despite dealing with foot, back and leg injuries through the year, as well as a concussion.
The Lions signed Lang to a three-year deal, part of general manager Bob Quinn’s three-year overhaul of the team’s offensive line. Durability issues, not just with Lang, but across the board, derailed Quinn’s plan as Detroit started 10 different combinations up front in 2017. That played a significant role in the team finishing last in the NFL in rushing and allowing 47 sacks, a career-high for quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Quinn invested in insurance policies this offseason, signing experienced veterans Kenny Wiggins and Wesley Johnson to serve as backups, but both have struggled with consistency during the preseason.
Still, Lang’s injury has given those backups, along with the returning Joe Dahl, extended opportunities to work with the first-team offense, to develop chemistry in case of a worst-case scenario.
“For me, ideally, you’d like to have everybody always out on the practice field,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “I think, again, like I’ve mentioned before, I would say the offensive line is one position that’s extremely hard — from a standpoint of, you have five guys that need to see the game through one set of eyes. That is always tricky. But, you also embrace the opportunity to get a good evaluation of different guys in those spots and I’ll take that now. I’ll take that opportunity now to do that when we’re working through training camp, as opposed to trying to figure that out on a Wednesday or a Thursday of a game week.”
Lang’s setback, after coming into camp healthy, has been admittedly frustrating for the player and the team. But even if he remains sidelined through the remainder of the preseason, he doesn’t believe it will prevent him from playing at a high level once the games matter.
“I think, mentally, (playing in the preseason) goes a long way in preparation for the season, but at the same time, I’ve been doing this for a long time,” Lang said. “I can find ways to simulate that, even if I don’t play this week or next week at all. I don’t think I’ll have any trouble getting off to a good start in Week 1.”