By Ashley Dunkak
ALLEN PARK (CBS DETROIT) – The Detroit Lions offensive line turned out much better than most outside the organization expected, and the Lions now have reason to be more confident in the unit than ever.
Jason Fox won a tight competition at the beginning of the season for the starting right tackle position. He got hurt and ended up missing games for a pulled groin and later for a knee injury. Corey Hilliard, the lineman Fox initially beat out, stepped into the spot rather seamlessly. Then Hilliard injured his knee. Undrafted rookie LaAdrian Waddle then took over.
Waddle started at right tackle against the Dallas Cowboys and played well enough to get a second start Sunday against the Chicago Bears. As Hilliard and Fox begin to come back from their injuries, it looks as though the competition for starting right tackle could start all over again.
“We practice during the week and then Saturday night we kind of make that call,” offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “It’s just good that they’ve all had experience and that when the times they’ve all played their different times they’ve done well for us.
“Sometimes it’s a feel thing,” Linehan added. “Obviously [offensive line coach] Jeremiah [Washburn] and Coach [Jim] Schwartz are ultimately going to make the call on who’s going to play and who isn’t, who’s up on Sundays. You like to try to keep as much continuity as you have with it, but it’s a luxury now to have guys that have all played consistent for us.”
Schwartz seconded Linehan’s statement that the Lions feel good about the spot regardless of who is there because all three have started in games this season and proved to be dependable.
“All those guys, we have confidence that they can go in the game, and they’ve proven themselves that they can,” Schwartz said. “Our depth has already been tested at that position, so we feel good about that position, and we’ll make the decision that we think is best for the team.”
It is a situation that, while a net positive for the team, illustrates well the uncertain nature of a job in the NFL and the duality of wanting to be on the field and yet most of all wanting one’s team to win. Hilliard, who early on was next in line to play right tackle after Fox, does not know if he will be started once available or whether the Lions with stick with Waddle.
“I really don’t know, man,” said Hilliard, who was limited in practice Thursday. “I really don’t know. The good thing about it is you’ve got three guys that can play that position and do well. I don’t know, you’d have to ask the coaches that. I don’t know. I just started practicing, I just got back to practice, so I have no clue. I don’t know what they’re thinking or what they’re going to do.”
What they do is not something Hilliard has any say in, so he tries not to worry about it.
“Of course you have thoughts about it, but at the end of the day, you can control what you can control,” Hilliard said. “All I can do is go out and practice and put my best foot forward. I don’t try to let that stuff get to me.”
Easier said than done, of course.
“We all want to play,” Hilliard said. “All three of us want to play, you know what I mean? Only one guy can play. So it’s hard, but like I said, you just kind of have to shut that out.”
The linemen shut out the questions about who gets the nod Sunday, but they keep each other close.
“We’re very supportive of each other,” Hilliard said. “At the end of the day we want to see the team succeed, so you’re not going … not help somebody out. That could damage the team and all our goals.”
All the three can do is play their best and let the coaches choose.
“Just play it by ear,” Hilliard said. “Do what you can do, and whoever gets the nod gets the nod.”