Reiff: 'You have to be ready to go'

Posted Nov 21, 2012

Lions' rookie Riley Reiff was drafted to be the Lions' left tackle of the future, but most thought that era would begin next season instead of Week 12 against the best team in the NFL.

"You have to be ready to go."

It's a phrase rookie left tackle Riley Reiff uttered no more than six times during a five-minute interview in front of his locker Tuesday. Those seven words ring so true for Reiff on the eve of the Lions' 73rd annual Thanksgiving Day game as they host the Texans.

The team's first-round draft pick this year, Reiff could make his first start at left tackle with iron-man Jeff Backus expected to be sidelined for the first time in his 12-year career with a hamstring injury.

Reiff was drafted to be the Lions' left tackle of the future, but most thought that era would begin next season instead of Week 12 against the best team in the NFL.

Backus injured his hamstring in the second quarter of last week's loss to the Packers and Reiff finished the game in his place. Reiff committed two holding penalties (one was declined) and allowed three quarterback hurries. He played in 54 of 72 snaps against the Packers, his most extensive work of the season. Before Sunday, he'd carved out a nice niche as an eligible extra lineman in a power package.

"Anytime you get on the field, you're gaining a little bit more knowledge, a little bit more experience," Reiff said. "It's just playing football. It's what I'm here to do and do it at a high level."

After practice Tuesday, Reiff was getting some extra work with teammate and veteran guard Dylan Gandy, running through footwork drills. All week long, Reiff said the guys in the offensive line room have had his back.

"The guys in the O-line room, we're all together," he said. "It's one unit. We stick together and help each other out. Jeff's a great guy, and I listen to anything he says. He's a smart player, he's been a really good player, and I try to take as much from him as possible."

Right tackle Gosder Cherilus said everyone in that room expects Reiff to pick it up right where Backus left off.

"He's been around and the kid is a good learner and a quick learner and has been doing it for us since OTAs," Cherilus said. "I wouldn't expect any less than for him to pick it up right where Jeff left it off."

Call it indoctrination by fire for Reiff Thursday.

The Texans come to town with a 9-1 record and they're bringing defensive end J.J. Watt, a former Big Ten rival of Reiff's, with them. Watt, who played defensive end at Wisconsin when Reiff was a left tackle at Iowa, ranks third in the NFL with 11.5 sacks.

The Texans move Watt around quite a bit in Wade Phillips' 3-4 defense, and Reiff is likely to only see him about a quarter of the time, but he says he has built a lot of respect for Watt and his abilities over the years.

"He's a very good player," Reiff said of Watt. "A hard worker and I have a lot of respect for him. He's playing well."

Both Reiff and Cherilus will have their hands full with one of the best young pass rushers in the league on Thursday. Besides the sacks, Watt ranks first among defensive linemen with 11 pass breakups. Only five players have more pass breakups, and all five are cornerbacks.

"He's strong and he has good hands and he'll use whatever you give him," Cherilus said of Watt. "If you sit back he'll put his arms on your chest and pretty much drive you back. If you get too aggressive on him he's quick enough to get around you. So, you're going to have to have a good plan to have a chance against him."

Reiff said he remembers watching the Lions on Thanksgiving Day as a kid growing up in South Dakota, but admitted that he didn't typically watch a whole game.

"You're a little kid and you're seeing someone play (on TV), you watch a little bit of the game and then you run out and try mimicking those players (in the yard)," he said. "I remember that being a little kid. It's just special playing on Thanksgiving."

Not a bad debut: national television on one of the biggest football days of the year with his mom, dad and younger brother in town for the game.

All eyes will be on No. 71 early Thursday, but as Reiff said a half dozen times on Thursday – he'll be ready.