The Detroit Lions Then and Now: Offensive Line

Then and Now is a SideLion Report mini-series in which we look at each position group from the 0-16 season of 2008 and compare it to the current roster.

The Lions roster has gone under a near complete overhaul since the team went 0-16 in the 2008 season. It would be a lot more complete had their been wholesale changes along the offensive line.

The typical starters along the offensive line in 2008 were Jeff Backus, Edwin Mulitalo, Dominic Raiola, Stephen Peterman and Gosder Cherilus.

The typical starters along the offensive line in 2010 were Jeff Backus, Rob Sims, Dominic Raiola, Stephen Peterman and Gosder Cherilus.

That is exactly one difference for those of you counting at home. The degree to which this should be considered troubling largely depends on personal opinions.

While the offensive line did a good job of protecting their quarterbacks in 2010 (less a Julius Peppers KO), it needs to be acknowledged that the Lions running game hasn’t gotten appreciably better since their 0-16 season.

Jeff Backus and Dominic Raiola have received plenty of scorn from Lions fans over the years. Backus struggled in Mike Martz’s offense but has rebounded over the last couple years to play some of the best football of his life. Still, some fans can’t get the images of “Sackus” out of their heads. Some would get rid of Raiola simply because he is undersized. I debunked the myth of the undersized center in a post near the end of December. His size alone shouldn’t be enough to boot him to the curb considering there are a number of similarly sized centers that contribute for very good teams. I would argue that each has suffered the fans’ wrath simply because they are the most visible connecting cord between the failures of Matt Millen and the team today.

No matter the feelings about either player in the here and now, neither will play forever and we are much closer to the end of their careers than the beginning. With the rest of the offense looking like the roster is set for the foreseeable future, the offensive line is an area that will have to be addressed in the next year or two. There is no apparent replacement currently on the roster at either position and one has to wonder how long the Lions can afford to play that game of chicken.

Rob Sims is a clear upgrade over Mulitalo and I will contend that Stephen Peterman is not a problem when healthy. Staying healthy, however, may be a problem and the 2011 season may be his shot to prove that he can do just that. Gosder Cherilus was just a rookie in 2008 and he finally showed signs of “getting it” before succumbing to a season ending knee injury last season. His 2011 self will bean upgrade over his 2008 self should he return to full strength.

The outlook following the 2010 season is much better for the offensive line than it was following the 2008 season. George Foster was a false start machine, Manny Ramirez was a Millen draft pick (enough said) and Andy McCollum had just completed his 13th (and final) season. Jason Fox remains somewhat of an enigma but Corey Hilliard showed promise in relief of Cherilus and Johnny Culbreath gives the team another developmental prospect. I would still love to see the Lions give David Mims a chance as an undrafted free agent when the lockout ends.

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Tags: Dominic Raiola Edwin Mulitalo Gosder Cherilus Jeff Backus Rob Sims Stephen Peterman

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