LIONS INSIDER

Are the Detroit Lions' young offensive linemen ready for the spotlight?

Posted Feb 14, 2013

With the release of Stephen Peterman and the uncertain status of Dominic Raiola, Gosder Cherlius and Jeff Backus, the Detroit Lions will be looking to their young core of offensive linemen to step up in 2013

The release of guard Stephen Peterman last week, the pending free agency of right tackle Gosder Cherilus and the uncertain future of 12-year veterans Jeff Backus and Dominic Raiola, indicates the Detroit Lions' offensive line is going to look different next season, with the potential for a complete overhaul.

The Lions have liked the continuity along their offensive line the last few years with Backus, left guard Rob Sims, Raiola, Peterman and Cherilus starting the majority of the last three seasons, but there comes a time when talent has to supersede stability.

Getting younger and more talented has been needed for some time now and the Lions have identified it as a must. Now they are heading full-bore into the offseason with the plan to get better up front.

The release of Peterman saved the team nearly $3 million in cap space for next season. If Raiola is eventually released – which is still a possibility – it would free up another $4 million.

The middle of the offensive line was a weakness for the Lions in 2012. Peterman gave up 45 quarterback disruptions in 2012, according to ProFootballFocus.com, and the run game struggled to getting footing up the middle.

Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said quarterback Matthew Stafford faced way too much pressure up the middle last year, which was a big part of the problems offensively.

But the Lions have some young players waiting in the wings that Mayhew is hoping are ready to contribute.

We all know first-round pick last year Riley Reiff will be starting somewhere along the line in 2013. Whether that's at tackle or guard has yet to be determined.

"He can play four spots, I think," Mayhew said of Reiff. "He's got that kind of versatility. He can play guard and tackle."

Reiff, 24, played the majority of his 326 snaps last year as an extra lineman, but did start for the injured Backus at left tackle on Thanksgiving vs. the Texans and held his own.

Bill Nagy, 25, whom the Lions claimed off waivers in August, is ready to return to action after ankle surgery and can play both center and guard. He started four games at guard for the Cowboys in 2011 and was competing for the starting center spot last year before he was injured and eventually waived.

"Bill, obviously, has been injured, but I saw the tape when he played in Dallas and he's a quality player," Mayhew said. "He can play guard and he can play center."

One player who hasn't been talked about a whole lot, but who's impressed Lions coaches and brass last season, is practice squad guard Rodney Austin, 24, who Mayhew says really came on late last year.

Corey Hilliard"Rodney did a great job on the practice squad and we were concerned late in the year about losing him to somebody," he said. "He had a good preseason for us. He's a big, strong guy. He's a good athlete. He's a smart player. He's bringing something to the table and he's got an opportunity to be a factor this year."

The Lions also feel good about young tackles Jason Fox, 24, and Corey Hilliard, 27.

Fox, who's a restricted free agent, proved last year that he could stay healthy, which was his big hurdle moving forward. The Lions selected him in the fourth round in 2010 and have been very high on his play, when he's been healthy.

Hilliard is an unrestricted free agent with starting experience. Mayhew said the team will work hard to bring him back next year so they can put him in the mix, too.

"I think he did a really good job for us when he was here and had one start for us, I think against Kansas City in 2011," Mayhew said.

"This year he didn't play, just because Jeff (Backus) and Gosder (Cherilus) stayed healthy and Riley was ready to go, so he didn't get an opportunity to get on the field, but he's definitely a guy we'll try to get back."

The Lions are no longer staying with the status quo upfront; they’re likely to add more talent to the pool via free agency and the draft. They're also hoping some of their younger players are ready for their time in the spotlight.