By Ashley Dunkak
FORD FIELD (CBS DETROIT) – Looking at all the big names on the offensive side of the Detroit Lions roster, it might be tempting to simply pencil that group in among the best in the NFL before the season ever starts.
Lions center Dominic Raiola wants to put the kibosh on that right now.
“We’ve got a lot to prove,” Raiola said. “We were 7-9 last year.”
The offense was stacked then, too – led by quarterback Matthew Stafford, sustained by wide receiver Calvin Johnson, buoyed by running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell and fronted by an unprecedentedly solid offensive line, which was and is anchored by Raiola, who is in his 14th NFL season.
Particularly with the additions of Golden Tate and Eric Ebron, the latest incarnation of the Lions offense might look too good to fail, but Raiola knows that winning takes more than the right pieces.
Preseason games – which for the Lions begin Saturday – often get blasted as a money grab by the NFL; as a period of unnecessary extra wear and tear on players; and as a mediocre product because of the vanilla play calling and because the best players generally only participate in a few series each game. Raiola says, however, that those games play a major role in helping the team get ready for the season.
“We’re going to get our timing down, we’re going to work on the plays they call, executing, getting guys in the huddle, in and our of the huddle,” Raiola said.
With a new offensive coordinator in Joe Lombardi, the Lions have had plenty to learn in the offseason, but Raiola said Stafford – known for his cannon of an arm and the accompanying potential he has yet to live up to – has taken the change in system in stride and has handled it well.
“I think he’s embracing it more and more,” Raiola said. “I don’t want to say he’s got it down because you never have it down, but he’s embracing it, and he’s really tightening the screws up.”
As for Raiola and the offensive line, they seem to make it a point to keep the proverbial chip from last year planted firmly on their collective shoulder.
“We haven’t arrived yet,” Raiola said. “There’s enough older guys in there to put the foot down and say, ‘Hey, we haven’t arrived yet. Who are we? Was that us? Was that a fluke?’ We always challenge ourselves with questions. We don’t ever want to take steps backwards, so we always want to play at the edge of our seat.
“It’s funny because I lean on these young guys for energy and youth and try to go backwards in life,” Raiola continued, “and they lean on me and Rob [Sims] for experience, so it kind of goes hand in hand.”
Though Raiola has a point that the Lions offense has not proven anything yet, it certainly seems that the offense in good position to do so when the regular season begins in a few short weeks.