Over the offseason, right tackle wasn’t among the positions many figured would be up for grabs in Detroit Lions training camp. Going back to the draft, many scoffed at the mere suggestion the Lions could consider a tackle based on the look of Riley Reiff and LaAdrian Waddle as ten-year starters.
Looks can be deceiving.
After a dominating performance against the Chicago Bears in just his third game as an undrafted rookie, Waddle was inconsistent down the stretch – a funk that has continued into preseason play this season. That has opened the door for Corey Hilliard.
Waddle and Hilliard have similar ratings from Pro Football Focus in a similar number of snaps in preseason play but Hilliard’s overall rating is without any wild variations in PFF’s sub-categories. His -0.9 overall rating comes mostly from a -0.7 for penalties while he’s basically neutral (-0.1) for his run and pass blocking. Nothing wildly proficient, but nothing deficient either.
Waddle is a different case, according to PFF. He’s -0.8 overall, but a solid pass blocking grade (+1.6) is wiped out and then some by a -2.7 run block grade.
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At practice yesterday, Jim Caldwell expressed comfort with the position no matter who wins the starting job.
"You know, one of those things in this league, because of the fact that you just have often times so many injuries and you’d love to stay healthy the entire time. But, let me just tell you something about those two guys (T Corey Hilliard and T LaAdrian Waddle), is that there is a comfort level with them because they both are performers. They do a nice job, they perform extremely well. It is a very, very close competition. So I think at this point we would feel very, very good regardless of which one ends up winning that particular job."
This would be a lot better news it the uncertainty in who will start the season at right tackle was about Hilliard stepping up his game. Unfortunately, the lack of clarity is much more due to Waddle’s seeming regression.
Hilliard got the start in last week’s “dress rehearsal” against the Jacksonville Jaguars and finished with more snaps than Waddle. But that may not be an indication of a lead, as the two have alternated preseason starts so far with nearly identical snap counts so far. If the pattern holds, Waddle will have the chance to make the final impression in the starting lineup against the Buffalo Bills.