GREEN BAY, Wis. – When rookie T.J. Lang moved out of his home to join the Green Bay Packers for his rookie season, one of the last things he glanced at in his old room was a poster of a local legend: Charles Woodson.
Months later, the two players, with an 11-year age difference, would have more in common than their Michigan ties. They would make major contributions to the Packers beating Detroit, 34-12, on Thanksgiving Day and improving to an overall 7-4 record.
The veteran Woodson, from the University of Michigan, made a case for defensive player of the year with two interceptions and a forced fumble against the Lions.
Lang, the rookie out of Eastern Michigan University who also went to Birmingham Brother Rice, continued to fulfill his role as solid backup and substitute.That type of play that represents the youth movement has really helped sustain the Packers’ improved play in recent weeks.
“I feel our young guys are playing good as a whole,” the 22-year-old Lang said. “Clay (Matthews) and B.J. (Raji), they’ve been playing good enough to where the coaches trust them to put them out there and get the job done.
“Clay is getting a lot of playing time. I’ve had a chance for a few starts. We’re young, we still have a lot to learn, but we’re starting to contribute a little bit.”
Lang has now filled in reliably at left guard, and can play left tackle and right tackle.
Defensive lineman Raji is showing his athletic pursuit and strength at the line. Outside linebacker Matthews is the kind of relentless force who might get blocked, but doesn’t remain blocked for long.
Fullback Quinn Johnson and linebacker Brad Jones also are among the Packers drafted rookies who have, play by play, assisted with Green Bay’s three-game winning streak.
“It’s hard for rookies to gain that maturity in the NFL, but they’re starting to mature as players,” veteran linebacker Nick Barnett said. “We expect that of them. B.J. is playing great, Brad stepped up for Aaron Kampman and Lang, I don’t know if he’s a guard or a tackle.
“But that play is huge. We’re going to need these guys, definitely. They’re going to play a vital role.”
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers agreed that with five games remaining in the regular season – two at home – the newcomers no longer can consider themselves rookies. They’re just players now. The next game is against Baltimore on Dec. 7.
“Those guys have gained experience and gained confidence. And they’ve earned the confidence around them,” Capers said. “They’re going to have to perform for us.”
Is Woodson the best in NFL? It began with Troy Aikman and Joe Buck on the Fox television broadcast, but after standout performances against Dallas and Detroit, there is a buzz around Woodson that he’s a leading candidate for the NFL’s defensive player of the year award.
“If there’s a defensive player in the league playing better than Charles right now, I’d like to see him,” Capers said. “This guy is having an outstanding year.”
In his 24 seasons in the NFL, Capers is one of the league’s most experienced coaches. Defensive end Jason Taylor earned defensive player of the year honors in Miami in 2006, when Capers was defensive coordinator.
“’Wood’ seems to make a big play just about every game,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.