Uncertainty Lingers About Lions’ Offensive Line
By Ashley Dunkak
Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz has not been in a hurry to make a decision on who will start at right tackle and right guard, and it sounds like the upcoming matchup with the New England Patriots has not heightened the sense of urgency.
“We’ll have plenty of time to make those decisions,” Schwartz said. “These guys are being evaluated. They’re being evaluated yesterday, today, tomorrow, preseason games. All that’s part of their resumes, part of their body of work that we use to make those decisions.”
Detroit’s performance in the preseason game Thursday against the Cleveland Browns likely did not enhance too many of those resumes. The Lions – albeit without the superstar presence of wide receiver Calvin Johnson – recorded just 217 yards and failed to score a single touchdown. They hit a pair of field goals and lost to the Browns 24-6.
Between the lack of participation by starters and exceedingly vanilla play calling, drawing conclusions from preseason games about a team’s future is a gamble at best, but the glimpses the Lions provided Friday were not overly positive.
“You’ve still got to be able to run the ball effectively,” Schwartz said. “Particularly at the end of the game, when you’re trying to close the game out, it’s always going to be eight-boxes, it’s always going to be good run defenses. We’ve got to pick up first downs against that. Efficiency, we’ve got to be able to pick up first downs and control the clock in those situations, particularly late in the game.”
Left guard Rob Sims said the game against New England will reveal a decent amount about the offensive line and that the group just needs more repetitions.
“We’re getting closer,” Sims said. “The last game – you didn’t see it in the stats, but we did some good things. We did some things that we need to correct, and we’ve come out here these first two days and corrected them. I think we’re close.”
“We’ve got to be consistent,” Sims added. “That’s what we need to do up front. We can’t make plays. We just need to do our job. We’ve got some guys that are very capable of doing that, and they’ll be ready to go.”
Sims said the uncertainty about who will start on the offensive line has not been too rough on the group because many of the linemen have been in the Lions system for years. Though those players have few collective starts, they still have familiarity with the offense and with each other.
“It’s not tough,” Sims said. “The reason is because the majority of those guys have been with us, and we’ve been playing with them for a couple years. Even though they haven’t been with the ones, at some point they’ve had to play, like Corey [Hilliard] and Jason [Fox] and Dylan [Gandy], and then Larry [Warford is] doing a really good job of fitting in.”
The right tackle spot is expected to be filled by either Hilliard or Fox. Hillard is in his fourth year with Detroit, and though he did not play last season or in 2009, he played in all 16 games in both 2011 and 2012. Fox also has four seasons with the Lions under his belt and has played in a handful of games.
At right guard, there are more options. Jake Scott and Leroy Harris are both veterans competing for the slot after coming from other organizations, while Gandy has played in all but one game for the Lions over the past four years. Warford is a rookie Detroit drafted in the third round this year.
Sims said the Lions will be fine no matter how the shuffle ultimately shakes out.
“We’ve still got time,” Sims said. “They’ve got a good competition going on over there. May the best man win, and the best guy for the job is going to get it. Whoever ends up being over there, we’ll be good to go. For sure.”
If the Lions could figure out what they want their final starting lineup to be so they can test it against the Patriots, that would give them a good gauge of their standing as a team. Whether or not that will happen is still up in the air.
“You want to have all the pieces because they all uniquely fit, and it affects defense the way they have to defend them,” Schwartz said. “It’s important. It’s not a deal-breaker.”