Presence of rookies could elevate the play of a few veterans

Posted May 19, 2012

Make no mistake about it, the Lions didn’t use the 23rd overall pick in last month's NFL Draft on offensive tackle Riley Reiff for him to sit on the sidelines and ease himself into action. Reiff is the eventual replacement at left tackle for Jeff Backus, and the Lions are optimistic he’s one of their best five offensive lineman right now.

Reiff could push Backus for the left tackle job this season, but it’s more likely he competes for the right tackle or right guard spots.

Lions left guard Rob Sims has been impressed by Reiff during this week’s offseason training program workouts, the first week the rookies have participated with the veterans.

“I think he’s a good player,” Sims said. “I think there’s a reason why he got taken in the first round, for sure. He looks good. Hopefully, he’s a player for years to come and, like I said, we’re excited to have him; we’re excited to work with him.”

That being said, Sims still thinks it will be Backus lining up on his left in 2012.

“Right now, I believe it’s Jeff Backus, and that’s the way we go,” Sims said Thursday when asked who thinks will be the team’s left tackle this season. “I love playing with Jeff. I wish I would have had Jeff earlier in his career, and I was a little bit later in my career. We just fit together, I like it and hopefully we keep that going for as long as possible.”

Backus, 34, signed a two-year contract with the Lions this offseason. He’s recovering nicely from offseason bicep surgery and is on schedule to continue his 176 consecutive starts streak.

The Lions return all five starting offensive lineman from last year’s 10-6 team and each of those five starters have talked about the chemistry that’s developed amongst the unit having played so many games with each other. That’s always an interesting dynamic around draft time when teams bring rookies into a veteran group.

“There’s always going to be chatter when a guy like that comes into your room,” Sims said. “For one, you’ve got some guys that are going to struggle with it because, let’s be honest, a guy like that comes in, somebody’s got to look for a job eventually. But we’re all about getting better. They welcomed me with open arms when I came here (via trade in 2010), and it fit, and we’re going to do the same with him and it’s going to be good.”

Receiver Nate Burleson said the same thing about rookie receiver Ryan Broyles, who the Lions took in the second round of April’s draft. Broyles is expected to be the eventual replacement of Burleson in the slot.

"I'm a firm believer in just take the best athlete available," Burleson said before the draft. "I don't care if it's a guy in my position, or if it's somebody else. If we get the best player available, I know we're going to be better.”

In an interview with Sirius NFL Radio after the draft, Burleson had the same mindset and said he wasn’t threatened at all by the Broyles selection.

"I think the biggest motivational factor for me is that as I get a little bit older each year; every player that comes in gets a little bit younger,” he said. “That's the nature of the game.

"So, in order for me to continue to play and continue to be asked to be a part of the team and continue to get paid a lot of money to play such a great sport, I'm going to have to prove I can compete with these young guys and that they're going to have to catch up with me."

Football is a young man’s game -- for the most part -- and Burleson makes a good point. While the additions of Reiff and Broyles and the other rookies make the Lions’ roster more talented, their presence could also elevate the play of a few veterans.

In that case, it’s a win-win for the Lions.