An ideal Offensive Line consists of five players who are both good enough at their jobs and comfortable enough with each other to work as a unit. Although they fielded one of the best units in the NFL last season, the Lions made it a point to address their center position by drafting Travis Swanson in the 3rd round of the 2014 NFL draft. Swanson’s pick didn’t put Dominic Raiola on notice, the 13th year Center has been on notice for years due to his age and he knows it, but it did add to haziness at the LG position. With entrenched veteran Rob Sims limited in OTAs, 3rd year pro Rodney Austin has been taking first team reps with the team, a situation that is perfect not only for Austin but for the Lions.
The talented small school workhorse out of Elon began camp with a long road to even make the roster, where it seemed swing interior OL was his most likely landing spot if he played well. The best possible way a bubble player can make roster is by stealing time with the first team, and Rob Sims continuing to be limited has given Austin the chance he needed to show the team he can use his strength and nasty streak to the team’s benefit.
With Travis Swanson fast tracked to the roster due to his draft status and Alex Bullard nipping at his heels for the swing OL spot, Rodney Austin needed an opportunity to not only showcase his strength and athleticism more but also a chance to showcase improved technique. It was his technique, not his athletic ability, that got him cut the past two seasons. While he had improved greatly last season, his lack of ability to play center effectively was noticeable and led to his second consecutive loss to Dylan Gandy for a roster spot.
The Lions have needed a viable replacement for Dominic Raiola for years and finally took that step with Travis Swanson. Less notable was the decline of Rob Sims at left guard. Sims has been a stalwart protector for Stafford since 2010 and a valuable locker room presence. Once the Lions’ best OL, the rapid ascension of Larry Warford and LaAdrian Waddle combined with Dominic Raiola’s resurgence has left him on the outside looking in. His cap hit of $3.775 million makes him a potential casualty even if he isn’t outplayed by Rodney Austin, but losing time to a hungry youngster won’t help his case.
Rodney Austin is no lock to even make the final 53 man roster. If he were to make the roster, not as the primary backup but as the starting LG having beaten out Rob Sims, it would be an ideal situation for the Detroit Lions. Austin would be the second oldest starting OL for 2015 with Riley Reiff (25) having only a few days on him. Starting 2015 with all five starting Offensive Linemen under contract and under 27 years old would be a massive boon to a team that hasn’t had consistency on the offensive line in over a decade. Having not one, but two of those players coming from the ranks of the undrafted would be a testament to how different this Detroit Lions team is from the ones we grew accustomed to in years past.