- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 2, 2000

Washington Redskins defensive end Kenard Lang doesn't understand why he was a scapegoat last season. After all, Lang once was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week and finished with the most tackles for losses by a Redskins lineman.

Yet Lang was benched after the ninth game because defensive coordinator Mike Nolan felt he wasn't motivated enough. Lang moved to defensive tackle on third downs as a limited role player. The gregarious locker room leader suddenly became an outcast.

"If a nine-year vet did the same thing I did, he got a pat on the back," Lang said. "I got in trouble."

But instead of becoming another failed first-round draft choice, Lang seems ready to rebound after a strong start to training camp that has impressed coach Norv Turner. Nolan wasn't retained, and incoming defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes seems taken with the young lineman. Maybe he's not ready to give Lang his starting job back, but at least the back room bashings have stopped.

Several defensive players said Lang was regularly chastised last season for the beleaguered line's No. 28 overall ranking. They felt Lang was unfairly singled out in a system designed for linebackers to make the plays instead of linemen.

"Last year made me a better man," Lang said. "I just accepted [the criticism]."

Defensive line coach Earl Leggett wasn't popular among his charges, and what happened to Lang left some resentment. While successor Anthony Cook was a better run-stopper than Lang, few saw the move as anything but punitive.

Nolan countered by saying Lang was talented but lackadaisical. The coordinator hoped the demotion would "wake up" Lang and make him play better, saying, "Let's do what you're capable of doing and not think that everybody's down on you and go in the tank." Defensive end Marco Coleman would yell "Miami" at Lang because the Hurricanes' linemen were known to get off the ball quickly.

Lang doesn't deny he is laid-back. It's part of the Orlando native's persona. He laughs a lot even when masking his emotions.

"He's definitely a laid-back kid, but I've had those before who turned it up when they got up on the football field," said defensive line coach Mike Trgovac. "We still have to work on that. We need him to play at a high intensity level at all times. He has a lot of ability. We just have to get it out of him."

Maybe Nolan's "discipline" finally has motivated Lang. While incoming defensive end Bruce Smith is keeping Lang on the bench, coaches have noticed a new seriousness about him. The "Abraham Lincoln" beard is now neatly trimmed. Lang still jokes while coming off the field, but he has improved his pass-rushing technique.

"I like what Ray Rhodes is doing now: He treats you like a man. That's the big key," Lang said. "He lets you be an athlete and make plays."

Lang's production has been sporadic since he led University of Miami linemen with 66 tackles and 11* sacks in 1996. Flying home on an off weekend during his 1997 rookie season caused Lang's ear infection to escalate so badly that he couldn't walk. Lang lost part of his hearing, and inner-ear surgery sidelined him five games. Still, Lang accumulated 52 tackles and 1* sacks while starting 11 games. His forced fumble led to an overtime victory against Arizona.

Lang started every game in 1998, with 76 tackles and seven sacks. He improved against the run, but was still a better pass rusher. It was a respectable second season that should have readied him for a breakout year. He became the first Redskins lineman in three years to gain NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for his three sacks, seven tackles and forced fumble in a 27-20 victory over the New York Jets on Sept. 26.

But Lang's production steadily slipped, especially on snaps after a big play. Now he's trying to remain consistent as a "swing man" who plays both end and tackle. Lang just wants a chance for redemption.

"I feel fine right now, but let's see what happens in the regular season," he said. "I have faith in them to get me in there."

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