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Wait Was Worth It for Running Back Lang : Rams: Twelfth-round draft choice has come a long way to make the opening-day roster. Dupree’s injury has given him a chance.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

He had to wait until the team’s final exhibition game, but David Lang proved conclusively he was indeed qualified to be a Ram tailback.

He fumbled on his first carry.

After that initiation, Lang went on to impress and depress Ram coaches with his performance against the Houston Oilers.

He cut and slashed his way all over the field, making big plays and big mistakes.

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“I feel good about what I’ve done this year,” Lang said.

Lang, who was a 12th-round selection in the 1990 draft, has come a long way to get to the point where he’s on the opening-season roster.

He had a solid three-year career at Northern Arizona, where he rushed for 521 yards and caught 41 passes his senior year. A strong runner with good hands but in need of experience, he had developmental squad written all over him.

However, Lang never got a chance.

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Lang, a criminal justice major in college, saw the process up close and personal. He was arrested for receiving stolen property and missed training camp while serving a 120-day prison sentence.

Lang refuses to talk about the incident, saying it was “in the past.”

“I just kept my faith and that pulled me through it,” Lang said.

When training camp began this summer, Lang was little better than a longshot in a crowded backfield.

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Cleveland Gary, Buford McGee and Robert Delpino were proven commodities. Marcus Dupree was making a much-publicized comeback. Mosi Tatupu was a Plan B free agent and a personal favorite of Coach John Robinson, his college coach at USC.

So Lang had his work cut out for him.

“I just needed a chance to prove myself,” he said.

That chance came against the Oilers because Gary and Dupree were unavailable because of injuries. In the previous three exhibition games, he had gained a whopping six yards in 10 carries.

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“I wanted to show them I can do the big job,” he said. “I wanted to go out there and try to make something happen.”

He did, but it didn’t always have positive results. On his first carry, Lang cut up the middle and fumbled, which led to the Oilers’ first touchdown.

“I wasn’t relaxed out there at first,” Lang said. “After a while, I calmed down and went with the flow.”

Lang may have been at ease, but others--including some of his teammates--weren’t. His play was at times electrifying and other times horrifying.

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He made some big plays, using his speed to cut back against the grain, a move reminiscent of a goggle-wearing, former Ram tailback. He also made mistakes, fumbling twice and losing 17 yards on an ill-advised cutback.

In all, Lang gained 68 yards in 21 carries, including a 20-yard run. He gained 100 yards in 18 carries and lost 32 the three other times he carried the ball.

After the game, quarterback Jim Everett summed up Lang’s performance by saying, “We saw the best and worst of David Lang tonight.”

Lang, undaunted, preferred to concentrate on the positive.

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“I definitely learned what I need to do and I think I did all right,” he said.

Lang did make an impression.

“He showed he was an aggressive runner and used his speed to make things happen,” Robinson said. “He had the burden of carrying the entire load and made some errors. But he made positive contributions.”

Lang’s drive to make the 47-man roster was helped immeasurably by the slow healing of Dupree’s injured toe, which eventually forced the Rams to put him on the injured reserve list. Robinson plans to utilize Lang’s speed by possibly having him return kickoffs.

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“I proved to other people and to myself that I can play on this level,” Lang said. “I did my part,” and, obviously, the Rams agreed.


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