The Detroit Lions are set for their biggest game in recent memory and will be giving their “center of the future” his first start at the position today against the Green Bay Packers. With Dominic Raiola suspended, Travis Swanson steps in to take over duties in the middle of the Lions’ offensive line.
Fortunately for the Lions, Swanson isn’t making his first start of his career. He stepped in to start at right guard while Larry Warford was out with a knee injury earlier in the year. Having spent essentially a full season with the team he is a rookie in name only and has seen meaningful game action along the way. We’ll see if that turns out to be enough with his first start at center coming in such a big spot, but the organization has plenty of faith in Swanson.
Jim Caldwell had the following to say during the week preparing for today’s game.
With the First Pick
On his biggest concern about C Travis Swanson starting this week: “I have none. I have none at all. I’ve been different places where, you know, I’m always drawing up on old experiences, where we’ve had guys in the first part of the season that were young players, rookies that stepped in and played for us on some very good teams. I think for the most part, we expect him to be good, we expect him to get his job done just like we did when (Cornelius) Lucas stepped in there very early. I think everybody would write and probably talk about his inexperience and all that kind of stuff, then after a while you don’t even know he’s out there. We’re expecting the same thing from Swanny. He’s got a great work habit. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be perfect by any stretch of the imagination. You can’t be perfect in this league. There is too much talent, right? That money’s spread around both teams, same salary cap. They have some players running around there. (Mike) Daniels on the inside, some quick guys that can move and play, so there will be a couple things here and there, but I don’t worry about them.”
On Swanson being a rookie on such a big stage this late in the season: “Not in the true sense of the word. A neophyte, maybe, but certainly not a rookie.”
On if he is concerned about Swanson’s ability to snap the ball in cold weather: “No, I really don’t think so. If it happens, it won’t be because of that. I don’t anticipate it will happen. We’ve had an opportunity to practice in inclement weather. It’s not going to be quite as cold down here as it’s going to be up there, obviously. Probably be in the mid-20s or somewhere around there, check with the weatherman. But around here we still have an opportunity to get out and practice. The guys haven’t shown any tendency to have any issues there.”
On if he will call more shotgun formations early to get Swanson acclimated: “No, I mean, if it calls for it within our game plan we’ll use it. When you think about that is the fact that if it was a huge downpour or something of that nature, but often times you can find in a huge downpour that sometimes shotgun is sometimes better than getting underneath center, in terms of handling the ball. So, it just depends.”
Raiola has been a stallwart at center for the Lions over many years but his play has taken a sudden turn for the worse after putting together a surprisingly solid 2013 season. For 2014, Raiola has rated out as the number 37 center among 40 qualified players per the position rankings on Pro Football Focus. A solid start by Swanson would represent more than just “holding down the fort”, it would mean an improvement at a position that has been a weakness for the Lions this season.
The Lions drafted Swanson in the third round of the 2014 draft to be their center of the future and today gives us a good look at what the future holds.