Taylor Decker on track to start at left tackle?
By Matt Urben
When the Lions selected Taylor Decker 16th overall in April’s draft, fans and analysts envisioned him filling the team’s vacant right tackle position. Even though Decker played left tackle for Ohio State with great success, his average athleticism and arm length had scouts projecting him as a better fit on the right side.
The Lions have started Riley Reiff at left tackle the past two seasons, with mixed results. Reiff has been okay but hasn’t done enough to convince coaches he is the long-term answer at the position. It now appears that Reiff will be moved over to the right side, as evidenced by the fact that Decker has worked primarily at left tackle throughout OTA’s.
Despite some adjustments to learning the Lions’ schematic concepts, Decker has shown capable of handling the duties of being Matthew Stafford’s blindside protector. His 6-foot-7 frame has helped him battle the team’s lengthy edge rushers. This comes as a surprise to most, as it is fairly unusual to start a rookie at left tackle unless they are the first overall pick or the franchise is rebuilding.
The Lions are in a sort of rebuild mode, but when you have a 1st-overall pick quarterback in his 8th year and a coach that was nearly fired after a 7-9 season, clearly management thinks they have the pieces to contend next season. This makes it even more surprising that the Lions seem to be going with Decker over the more experienced Reiff.
Left tackle is one of the toughest positions to play in all of football. They go against the opposition’s premier pass-rusher on a weekly basis. They get little credit for success and much of the blame when protection doesn’t hold up. Last season, the Lions’ offensive line struggled mightily.
This was one of the reasons the team brought in former Seahawks left tackle Russell Okung in free agency. They didn’t end up signing the big-name free agent and instead went with a cheaper option, in Geoff Schwartz. Still, the Lions knew they needed to upgrade their line in the draft if they hoped to improve in 2016.
The team drafted Michigan center, Graham Glasgow, in the third-round and Washington State guard, Joe Dahl, in the fourth. Both are expected to add depth and compete, but neither are expected to start. Decker is a sure-bet to start at one of the tackle positions, it just wasn’t expected to be on the left side.
If the Lions do end up with Decker on the left side when the regular season begins, they still should be improved from the group they had last season. Even a rookie 1st-round pick is better than the platoon of undrafted free agents the team has been playing at tackle the past few seasons. Reiff has always been better suited to play the right tackle position. He may finally be forced to move over if Decker can handle the left side throughout training camp and Preseason.