Detroit Lions, NFC North positional previews: Offensive Line
Leading up to training camps, SideLion Report previews position groups for the Detroit Lions, and the rest of the NFC North. Today, we look at offensive lines.
Whether it’s protecting the high-priced quarterbacks or clearing lanes for the talented young running backs in the division, the Detroit Lions and the rest of the NFC North will depend on the performance of their offensive lines greatly in 2019. Some of those teams will be looking for much improved performances from that unit, while others boast some of the best at their position.
So what does 2019 hold for the division’s offensive lines? Here are each team’s outlooks, starting with the Lions:
Key returning players: Taylor Decker, Graham Glasgow, Frank Ragnow, Rick Wagner, Kenny Wiggins, Tyrell Crosby, Joe Dahl
New additions: Oday Aboushi, Beau Benzschawel (Rookie)
Key losses: T.J. Lang
The 2019 offseason marked the first time in Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn’s tenure that he did not make a significant investment in the offensive line, as it’s development has been a major point of emphasis since he took over the position in 2016.
Hence, they will be depending on the advancement of some homegrown players, as well as the contributions of some well traveled veterans. They will all be led by returning offensive line coach Jeff Davidson, who helped elevate this unit to respectability in his first year in Detroit.
At tackle, Taylor Decker enters year four, looking to further distance himself from the shoulder injury that cost him half of 2017. He struggled to regain his impressive rookie form when he returned from that setback, but performed well in 2018 starting all 16 games. The Lions showed little hesitation in locking up quarterback Matthew Stafford’s blindside protector, picking up his fifth year option. Could 2019 be Decker’s best year yet?
On the other end, veteran Rick Wagner returns to man the right side, entering year three of the $47.5 million deal he signed in 2017, the richest free agent contract at the time in history given to a right tackle in terms of annual average. He is a solid player, but he has underperformed for the pact he signed. He could face competition from second year man Tyrell Crosby as early as this upcoming training camp, after Crosby looked strong filling in for an injured Wagner in two starts late last year.
The inside will once again be anchored by the versatile Graham Glasgow, who figures to move back out to left guard to accommodate former first rounder Frank Ragnow’s move to his more natural position of center. Glasgow continues to be a solid and reliable piece in the middle; he missed all of one offensive snap last year. He is a prime candidate for a contract extension this summer.
Ragnow had an uneven rookie season, starting every game at left guard and struggling at times to contain some of the league’s more powerful defensive disruptors. But he will move back to pivot this year to ideally maximize his potential and utilize the versatility that the Lions covet in their linemen. Ragnow’s performance could be a major barometer for the Lions’ offensive gains this year.
Right guard is where things start to get murky. When he was on the field during the last two seasons, veteran T.J. Lang was arguably the best offensive lineman for Detroit. He simply couldn’t stay healthy though, with concussions as well as neck and back injuries limiting him to 19 games in that time. The Lions made the difficult choice of releasing the respected leader in March, and Lang subsequently retired.
Who takes his place will be a critical storyline to follow in training camp. Journeyman Kenny Wiggins filled in primarily for Lang last year, with below average results. The Lions like his adaptability and durability. Fourth year player Joe Dahl could also get a crack at the job this year after filling a variety of roles in 2018 and having an impressive showing during spring workouts. Oday Aboushi, who played for Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell with the Seattle Seahawks and undrafted free agent Beau Benzschawel are two more names to watch in the battle for snaps inside.
The Lions are likely to keep nine offensive linemen, with seven being active on gameday. Four of the five starters seem fairly locked in, meaning the remaining contributors will undoubtedly need to offer enough variety in their game to warrant a roster spot, let alone a chance at starting. One gets the feeling that this unit needs to perform at a high level for Quinn to retain the confidence of Lions ownership, with so much capital invested in it over the years.