By: Will Burchfield
Matthew Stafford was pleased with what the Lions achieved in free agency, particularly in beefing up the offensive line. Now, he knows, it’s up to him and his peers to make it count.
“Obviously the guys that we got, really everywhere, are guys that have made an impact in this league and guys that our front office think can really help us. It’s on us as other players, and then the coaching staff, to get those guys indoctrinated as quickly as we possibly can and have them help us continue to get better up front,” Stafford said on Tuesday after day two of the Lions offseason workouts.
The Lions signed right tackle Rick Wagner and guard T.J. Lang in March, two of the most coveted offensive linemen on the free agent market. They’ll join a young and developing O-line that already features All-Rookie left tackle Taylor Decker, 2015 first-round guard Laken Tomlinson and a duo of strong centers in Travis Swanson and Graham Glasgow.
“I think the guys that we got are really talented. You talk to people around the league — coaches, other players that they’ve played with — nothing but positive things,” Stafford said. “As a quarterback, any time you can build up front it’s awesome. Not only those guys that we brought in, but I think we have a really good nucleus of young guys, too, that can really compete and push that line to be as good as it can be.”
Wagner and Lang were brought in, of course, to replace Riley Reiff and Larry Warford, both of whom would depart in free agency. The latter two players lined up in front of Stafford for a combined 118 games over the past four seasons, protecting their quarterback through thick and thin. For Stafford, their departure, in conjunction with the arrival of Wagner and Lang, was bittersweet.
“That’s the perfect way to describe it,” Stafford said. “Obviously have played quite a few games in a couple years with Larry and Riley and they battled hard for me and for our team. Respect them for not only who they are off the field, but what they did for me and our team on the field. It’s tough to lose them.
“I think we’re getting two excellent football players in return, which is obviously a plus — would have really stung to lose those two guys and maybe not get the two guys we got. So I feel like we’re in a really good place. Those guys up front kind of have to continue to grow together and bond, and that’s what this time of the year is for.”
Another player who stands to benefit from the Lions’ makeover on the offensive line is wide receiver Golden Tate. To him, it’s pretty simple.
“I’m not an offensive line guru, by any means, but more protection for our quarterback means more opportunities for the running backs, the tight ends, the receivers down the field,” Tate said.
On top of that, Tate knows the importance of keeping Stafford upright and clear of contact — something the quarterback is prone to renounce.
“We’ve got a tough quarterback, no doubt about it, this guy’s tough as nails. But if you can take three, four, five hits off him a year, at least, and give him more to throw the ball downfield, I think our yards per attempt go up, amount of explosive plays go up, yards per carry go up,” Tate said. “It’s kind of a domino effect. And I think this offense kind of starts with those guys (up front).”
But for all his excitement, Tate issued the same caveat as Stafford.
“On paper it’s looking good, but we gotta put the work in,” he said. “We gotta put the work in.”