A year after a Thanksgiving Day stomping incident put his image under the microscope, Ndamukong Suh returns hoping to make his 2012 season a lot more like 2010 than 2011. Hoping to stand in his way is Green Bay Packers left guard T.J. Lang, who now has a new five-time Pro Bowl center to his right and a year of starting experience under his belt.
This matchup is definitely a battle of youth, as the soon to be 25-year-old Lang goes up against the 25-year-old Suh. Not only are they similar in their youth, but they are exactly the same height (6'4") and are right around the same weight (Lang's 318 pounds, Suh's 307). They do not, however, have similar expectations surrounding them.
Suh was drafted No. 2 overall out of Nebraska in 2010 and was hailed as the defensive savior for the Detroit Lions, the missing piece to the rebuilding puzzle after 0-16 and 2-14 seasons in '08 and '09. Suh got off to a hot start in the NFL, with sacks in each of his first two games and an impressive total of 10 for his rookie season. He even added an interception, forced fumble and defensive touchdown and was rewarded with a Pro Bowl selection. However, 2011 saw him get only four sacks and was marred by his unsportsmanlike stomp on Lang's backup Evan Dietrich-Smith, which resulted in a two game suspension. Now there is a lot of pressure on Suh to clean up his act and get back to the Pro Bowl.
There is no such scrutiny facing 2009 4th round draft pick T.J. Lang, but don't think that he and everyone on the Packers offensive line won't be motivated to perform against Suh after what happened last Thanksgiving. It was already going to be a heated battle, knowing that Suh is one of the stars in the game, but now it's just going to be even more intense.
Lang played in and started 15 games last year. It was his first season as a true starter and he should now feel relatively comfortable in that role and ready to take on the likes of Suh who will be lining up against him twice this season. But if he needs any help he can look to 14-year veteran center Jeff Saturday to help double-team Suh. This will be a different dynamic than what the Packers had in 2011 with Lang and Scott Wells working together, but Lang has embraced the change. In Wells the Packers lose a 2011 Pro Bowler, but in Saturday they gain someone who's been to five including as recently as 2010.
"Obviously we lost Scotty who was a very good player, but Jeff - he's got a nice track record himself," Lang said following an OTA practice. "He's filled a big spot for us. And he's doing a great job. I think the chemistry is definitely coming along and it's gonna be there by the end of the offseason."