By Ashley Dunkak
As the collective enabler of Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, Reggie Bush and others, the Detroit Lions offensive line needs to be solid this season as the team tries to make everyone forget the 4-12 debacle of 2012.
Questions have lingered about the offensive line all off-season, but even as the competition continues for the starting right guard and right tackle spots, the team knows the current uncertainty now will make the line stronger in the future no matter who emerges as the winner of at various positions.
The Lions have not dealt with crippling injuries on the offensive line in the past few years. If they were to encounter such mishaps this season, though, they could be in better shape than most teams because of the previous uncertainty about who would start. Detroit has developed depth at offensive line because so many players have been candidates for starting jobs, and that could very well come in handy down the line if anyone does get hurt during the season.
“It does help you in those situations because you do have guys that have gotten quality reps that the team has confidence in,” Schwartz said. “I wouldn’t underestimate that part of it.”
Center Dominic Raiola said the composition of the starting lineup is not a concern of the players. The play of the whole unit is the primary issue because one weak link means a broken play is practically guaranteed.
“As an offensive lineman, if you have one breakdown, the play doesn’t go,” Raiola said. “One guy looks bad, the whole line looks bad. So I think that’s kind of how we take it. We back each other. One guy has a bad play, we all have a bad play, and we all have each other’s back in that way.”
That support remains no matter which players are in which spots.
“Whoever goes out there needs to instantly jell, become one with everybody else who’s on the field,” Raiola said. ”You let the coaches decide who’s going where, but as for us, that room is so tight. We work with each other, and whoever’s left standing out there is who’s going to start. We don’t worry about who’s starting. All we care about is who’s jelling out there, doing the right assignments, stuff like that.”
Outside expectations for the offensive line are not particularly high this season, given the off-season departures and new faces. The questions do not bother the linemen, though. Rather, they seem motivated.
“Guys are still hungry,” Raiola said. “We’re still playing with a sense of urgency. We’re still flying under the radar … That’s the way we like it, and that’s how we’re practicing and playing right now.”