Two weeks before training camp it appears the Detroit Lions will have at least three new starters along the offensive line after the retirement of Jeff Backus, the release of Stephen Peterman, and the way-too-rich signing of Gosder Cherilus by the Indianapolis Colts. Let’s take a look at who we will see week one.
Who’s on the roster: Rodney Austin, Jason Fox, Dylan Gandy, Derek Hardman, Leroy Harris, Corey Hilliard, Austin Holtz, Darren Keyton, Bill Nagy, Dominic Raiola, Riley Reiff, Jake Scott, Rob Sims, LaAdrian Waddle, Larry Warford,
Riley Reiff, last year’s first round pick out of Iowa, will be given every chance at left tackle and he’ll start week one. While many analysts believe Reiff is best suited to play right tackle or even guard, the Lions were unable to secure Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel, or Lane Johnson in the draft this past April. This means we’ll see the Lions give Reiff his chance this season on the left side.
The position I feel most confident in is left guard, where we’ll see Rob Sims. Sims is a mauler who has been a steady presence on the left side of the line since coming to Detroit in 2010. His veteran leadership will be relied on heavily this season in addition to his blocking skills.
Dominic Raiola will again be snapping the ball to Matthew Stafford this season. The leader of this offensive line, Raiola’s age seems to be catching up to him. However, the Lions have no better option than the 13-year veteran out of Nebraska. He’ll rely on smarts and technique and won’t overpower anybody, but in all honesty, Raiola has been doing that for most of his career. He’ll be serviceable again this season.
Rookie Larry Warford will start at right guard for the Detroit Lions this season. A third-round selection out of Kentucky, the Lions brass had to be ecstatic to see this man still on the board when their third round pick came around. At 333 pounds, Warford is a beast of a man who was clearly the best play on an often overmatched Kentucky squad playing in the SEC. Warford is an immediate upgrade from Stephen Peterman.
One of the most interesting position battles in camp this season will be at the right tackle position. Jason Fox and Corey Hilliard are expected to compete in what looks like a very closely matched competition. Fox has been talked about for the last two seasons as the heir apparent along the offensive line after the Lions drafted him in the fourth round three seasons ago. Hilliard brings more game-time experience than Fox, but does not hold as much upside. Like many others, I’m taking Fox by the slimmest of margins.
Veterans Jake Scott, Dylan Gandy, and Bill Nagy provide quality depth along the interior offensive line, while second year man Rodney Austin will also compete for a spot. LaAdrian Waddle shows some promise as an undrafted free agent, as does Austin Holtz. I’ll take Waddle to make the squad, making him and Hilliard the backup offensive tackles.
Except some mistakes early from this group as they learn to work together. Sims and Raiola will be counted on heavily as leaders and teachers, but as the season progresses I except this group to be even stronger than we have seen on the pass. With the addition of Reggie Bush, the offense has the potential to be even more dynamic than we have seen if given good protection. Consider the offensive line the X-factor going into this season. If they come together quickly, I think we’ll see a much more balanced offense this season. If not…well, let’s just say I expect to see more side-armed rushed passes from Matthew Stafford, and that does not bode well for the Honolulu Blue.