Jim Schwartz, Martin Mayhew not concerned with inexperience along offensive line

Posted Mar 20, 2013

Jim Schwartz and Martin Mayhew are confident in the offensive linemen they've acquired and developed can step in to starting roles this year

PHOENIX -- Speaking with beat writers Monday at the NFL League Meetings, Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said his love for receivers in the draft is not exclusive.

"It's an interesting angle that we love receivers and we draft so many receivers, and we drafted four receivers over the last four years, but did you know we drafted four offensive tackles over the last four years, too," he said with a smile. "I think we've been making investments in that position over a period of time and we'll probably continue to do that."

The Lions have spent resources along the offensive line, and - who knows - maybe more are to come with the No. 5-overall pick in next month's NFL Draft. But the team is expecting two recent draft picks -- Riley Reiff (first-round pick in 2012) and Jason Fox (fourth-round pick in 2010) -- to compete for starting roles this season with Jeff Backus and Gosder Cherilus no longer in the fold.

Corey Hilliard, whom the team signed off the Browns' practice squad in 2009 and whom they've developed over the last four seasons and signed to a two-year deal this offseason, will be in the mix, too.

Corey Hilliard
T Corey Hilliard (Photo: AP Images)

Those three players only have a combined six NFL starts between them, but Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz doesn't seem concerned.

"Our offensive line stayed healthy (last season) other than that one game Jeff Backus missed (Thanksgiving), so the depth that we had there was never really tested and we never got a chance for those guys to show what they can do," Schwartz told reporters over breakfast Wednesday.

"There's a reason we brought those guys back, and even though we would have liked to have Gosder back, we were prepared for his departure and prepared for Jeff Backus' retirement with the work we've done over the last couple years."

Schwartz reiterated that Reiff can play both tackle and guard and that it's yet to be determined which one he'll play. Expect him to start somewhere in 2013, and, as of right now, that looks to be at left tackle.

Fox missed most of his first two seasons because of knee and foot injuries and Hilliard was inactive for all 16 games last season. Still, Schwartz feels those players are ready to step in.

"I have confidence in them," Schwartz said. "That's why we go through training camp and everything else to get them ready.

"Jason Fox cleared, I think, a big hurdle last year when he was able to stay healthy the full year. Now, he didn't play, but he stayed healthy through practices and made good progress that way.

"Corey Hilliard is another guy that we really didn't need. We have confidence in the guys that are there that we've worked hard to develop. We've been comfortable with all those guys."

That certainly doesn't mean the Lions aren't open to the possibility of adding to that group, especially if one of the top tackles in next month's draft is available at No. 5, but the Lions feel Reiff, Fox and Hilliard are ready for their time in the spotlight if it shakes out that way.

"We really like Jason," Mayhew said. "Obviously, he has been injured, but when he's been healthy, he's given us a lot to be optimistic about.

"Then Corey has played and spot-played for us the last couple of years and looked good on tape. We're excited about those guys."