LARRY LAGE,AP Sports Writer
ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — Riley Reiff was far from the bright lights of New York City during the NFL draft. To keep his mind occupied on a night out of his control, Reiff chose to just hang out in his family’s barn back in South Dakota.
“I didn’t really care to watch the TV,” he said.
Then came the call: Reiff found out where he will be playing football this fall when the Detroit Lions informed him Thursday night they were taking him with the 23rd pick overall.
“When I got the call, I was super excited,” he said.
The Lions were pretty fired up, too.
Detroit desperately needed a talented cornerback to perhaps start this season, but with the top players at the position off the board, the franchise was thrilled that only one other offensive lineman had been drafted. The Lions added some young talent to bolster the depth on their offensive line, where the starters are 30 years old on average, and protect quarterback Matthew Stafford in the future.
“We have five quality starters, but it is good to have a young guy in the pipeline,” Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said.
Mayhew vowed that the team would stick to its philosophy of taking the top player available unless he was a quarterback. Mayhew insisted he wouldn’t put a need, such as cornerback, ahead of a better player at a position of strength on the roster.
Detroit tried to move up and once thought it would trade back to accumulate more selections, according to Mayhew, but decided to stick with its pick because of who was there.
“It’s not very often that the second offensive lineman goes 23rd overall,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said.
All-Pro receiver Calvin Johnson assumed the team would draft a defensive player in the first round when he met with reporters earlier this week, but the team decided it couldn’t pass up a chance to take Reiff.
The 6-foot-5, 313-pound Reiff was athletic enough to be a three-time state wrestling champion and to play tight end in high school. He went to Iowa as a defensive lineman before moving to the offensive line early in his freshman season.
“It was a great move for the future,” he said.
Reiff, who is from Parkston, S.D., skipped his senior season to enter the draft. He started 37 of 39 games for the Hawkeyes. He was a first-string left offensive tackle in 29 games, right tackle for one game and made seven starts at left guard.
Mayhew said Reiff can play four positions, Schwartz said he will develop as a left tackle in the league.
“Even though he’s still a young player and will improve, we’re not drafting a guy that is a developmental player,” Schwartz said. “He played at a high level in the Big Ten.”
Reiff said he can play any position on the offensive line, including center, and didn’t sound ready to concede that he would be a backup.
“I’m going to come in and compete and hopefully learn from the guys,” he said on a conference call with Detroit-area reporters.
Detroit re-signed left tackle Jeff Backus, who is 34, this offseason and might groom Reiff to perhaps replace 27-year-old Gosder Cherilus, who was its previous offensive lineman taken in the first round, or Backus in a couple of years. Cherilus was selected 17th overall in 2008, the last first-round pick made by former general manager Matt Millen, and has had an inconsistent career.
The other starting offensive linemen are 33-year-old center Dominic Raiola, 30-year-old guard Stephen Peterman and 28-year-old guard Rob Sims.
Like a lot of players in the draft, Reiff had off-the-field notes on his resume.
As an incoming freshman visiting campus, Reiff once stripped in an alley and led eight police officers on a 20-minute drunken foot chase. He paid a hefty fine and never appeared on the police blotter in Iowa City again.
“It was a real embarrassment,” he said.
It wasn’t enough to scare off the Lions.
“We felt very comfortable with his explanation,” Schwartz said. “We’ve all done some things as a freshman in college that we didn’t want coming back on us. The thing that gave us a lot of comfort was it was an isolated incident. He’s been incredibly productive and he’s been a model citizen.”
Detroit had its lowest first-round pick since 1992 when it drafted Robert Porcher 26th overall. The franchise ended its 11-year playoff drought last season with its first 10-win season since 1995.
Detroit’s next pick is in the second round, 54th overall, and it also has selections in the third, fourth and fifth rounds along with two slots in the seven and final round.
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