Lions’ Rookie Reiff On The Spot With Backus Ailing
NOAH TRISTER,AP Sports Writer
ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — Riley Reiff was one of the last players to leave the field Tuesday at Detroit’s practice facility.
That was appropriate, because the Lions’ rookie offensive lineman could have quite a task on his hands this week — without a lot of time to prepare.
Reiff may very well start for the Lions at left tackle Thursday against the Houston Texans. Jeff Backus, a mainstay on the offensive line for over a decade, is recovering from a hamstring injury, his streak of 186 starts in serious jeopardy. Reiff, a first-round draft pick this year, is preparing for whatever role awaits him on Thanksgiving.
Backus was hurt in the first half of Sunday’s loss to Green Bay, leaving Reiff to fill in.
“I’m ready to go,” Reiff said. “Any time you get on the field, you gain a little bit more knowledge, a little more experience.”
Backus did not participate in practice Tuesday, and his status for the game is in serious doubt. He’s started every game so far in his 12-year NFL career.
“I don’t know if there’s a player in this league I have more respect for,” Detroit defensive lineman Kyle Vanden Bosch said. “Jeff Backus has played through tons of injuries. … He’s been a true pro.”
Coach Jim Schwartz didn’t rule Backus out, but his streak may soon be spoken of in the past tense.
“Any athlete takes pride in their performance, their abilities. Their availability is extremely important,” Schwartz said. “But every athlete also has what’s in the best interest of the team ahead of themselves and Jeff is that kind of guy also.”
Reiff was taken with the 23rd pick in the draft out of Iowa. He was a bit shy Tuesday when asked about the possibility of a start this week, but he obviously understands the responsibility he might face.
“You have to be ready,” he said.
Reiff expects to have a few family members on hand for the Thanksgiving game, which is crucial for the Lions as they try to revive their dwindling playoff hopes. Detroit (4-6) is in last place in the NFC North, while Houston (9-1) is tied for the NFL’s best record.
The Texans’ defensive line is led by end J.J. Watt, who has 11.5 sacks.
“He’s a very good player — hard worker,” Reiff said. “I have a lot of respect for him. He’s playing well.”
Reiff may be well on his way to earning similar respect around the league. The 6-foot-6, 313-pound rookie stayed on the field for a few extra minutes to work with offensive lineman Dylan Gandy after practice Tuesday.
Gandy says it’s not unusual for one of the younger players to put in extra work, but Reiff’s performance so far has been impressive.
“He’s doing really well. He’s a really talented kid. He’s strong,” Gandy said. “He works hard. He studies. He takes it very serious.”
That attitude is welcome on a Detroit team that’s been a disappointment so far. The Lions still have time to turn things around, but they may need a boost from one of their youngest players.
“I think he’s up for the challenge,” offensive lineman Rob Sims said. “He handles his job very professionally. I expect nothing less this week.”
NOTES: WR Titus Young, whom the Lions will make inactive for Thursday’s game because of what Schwartz described as “unacceptable” behavior last weekend against the Packers, did not practice Tuesday. … The Lions added OL Justin Boren to the practice squad and cut DL Jimmy Saddler-McQueen.
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