After delay, T.J. Lang hopes healthy shoulder leads to healthy contract year

T.J. Lang finally had shoulder surgery this offseason and can't wait to be healthy for once. AP Photo/Jack Dempsey

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Having put off shoulder surgery for as long as he could -- and, as it turned out, longer than he should have -- T.J. Lang is watching the Green Bay Packers' organized team activity practices from the sideline this spring.

But the veteran right guard expects to be cleared for action in “another couple weeks” and be ready for the start of training camp July 24.

“I feel like I’ve missed enough already, so I'll have to catch up a little bit there late in July,” Lang said after the Packers’ open OTA practice last week. “But I’m expecting to be ready to go.”

Lang admitted that he probably should have had surgery on his troublesome right shoulder at least two years ago but kept putting it off, mainly because of the accompanying four- to six-month recovery time.

But having played through the pain last season -- and missing one game when that pain became unbearable -- Lang finally caved and had the surgery in February in Los Angeles, with Los Angeles Dodgers team doctor Neal Elattrache performing the procedure at the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic.

Lang said the surgery repaired a torn labrum and “a couple other things,” and his recovery is “much further ahead than I think even I expected.”

That’s good news for Lang, who’ll turn 29 in September and is entering the final year of a four-year, $22 million extension he signed in August 2012. Lang is hoping to stay in Green Bay, but with four other offensive linemen -- fellow starting guard Josh Sitton, starting left tackle David Bakhtiari, sixth man JC Tretter and backup tackle Don Barclay -- also entering the final year of their contracts, he knows he’ll have to play as well as or better than he played last season to earn his keep.

“Especially going into a contract year, you want to be as healthy as possible,” Lang said.

He wasn’t healthy last season -- he actually had problems with both shoulders but only had surgery on the right one, which was the more painful of the two -- and missed the team’s Dec. 3 Hail Mary victory at Detroit. A Michigan native who still makes his offseason home there, Lang not only missed the chance to play in front of his family and friends -- and be on the field for the miraculous Aaron Rodgers-to-Richard Rodgers game-winning touchdown -- but it ended a streak of 46 straight regular-season starts and marked only the second start he’s missed since becoming a starter in 2011.

“I had some games where it felt great, and I had games where just I could barely pick my arm up. [When] it reached a point where it finally held me out of a game, it kind of hit me then that it’s time to get it taken care of,” Lang said of the shoulder. “Once I missed that game, I think we smartened up a bit and limited me throughout practice. I think that was the biggest thing -- it was killing me in practice and then, by Sunday, it just didn’t feel like it was recovered in time.”

Despite the injury, Lang had his best season, as he was charged with only two sacks allowed and played at the same level as Sitton, who earned his third Pro Bowl nod. Both players are hoping to be even better this season with increased practice time, since Sitton missed significant time to rest his troublesome back each week. Sitton’s decision to lose 20 pounds this offseason was fueled largely by a desire to practice more.

“I do know that practice, no matter what year you are in experience, is invaluable, especially for a lineman,” offensive line coach James Campen said. “You’ve got stunts and games and calls and all that to make sure that you’re in tune with.”