Rodney Austin and Travis Swanson competing for a game-day role

Posted Jul 1, 2014

Rodney Austin and Travis Swanson both have a lot of potential, and the competition during training camp will determine who plays a bigger role in 2014.

The Detroit Lions thought enough of Rodney Austin's abilities to promote him from the practice squad to the active roster Week 13 last season so as to not lose him to the Tennessee Titans, who were interested in signing Austin off the Lions’ practice squad.

Travis SwansonC Travis Swanson (Photo: Detroit Lions)

Detroit loved the fact that Travis Swanson played 50 straight games in the SEC at Arkansas. They liked his prospects so much that they used their third-round draft pick on him in May.

Austin and Swanson have a lot of potential. As for an immediate role, the competition begins in about a month to see which one plays a bigger role in 2014.

The NFL allows just 46 players active on game day, which means most teams take seven offensive linemen into any one game. There are the five starters, one reserve tackle and one interior reserve, who can play both guard and center.

If Riley Reiff, Rob Sims, Dominic Raiola, Larry Warford and LaAdrian Waddle – all incumbents – win their respective starting jobs back this year as expected, it will likely leave Corey Hilliard as the swing tackle and either Austin or Swanson as the would-be interior swing man.

“When you go into ball games with seven guys, the versatility is imperative,” head coach Jim Caldwell said. “To have a guy only play one spot in the interior, it doesn’t help you that much.

“Now, it happens sometimes, but usually you have to end up carrying an extra lineman sometimes in the ball game. You may not want to carry eight, so most of them we’re going to work in there.”

Austin and Swanson rotated among guard and center this offseason and both got reps with the first-team offense at times. Caldwell and his coaching staff mixed and matched personnel upfront a lot during the spring with Sims rehabbing an injury and coaches wanting to see what guys can handle and which groups might play well together.

The interesting thing when it comes to Austin and Swanson is they both have their specialties. It should make for an interesting competition in training camp and an even more interesting decision for coaches when time comes to fill the depth chart afterward.

Austin, 6-foot-4, 311 pounds, is a better guard at this point in his career than he is a center. He’s big and powerful and has improved as much as anyone on the team over the last 12 months.

“Rodney’s smart,” Caldwell said. “Rodney’s tough. Rodney’s a good leader and he has skills and ability. (He is) a strong and powerful guy. He’s developing.”

Swanson, 6-foot-5, 310 pounds, is more comfortable at center, and the Lions viewed him as their center of the future on draft day. He played some guard at the Senior Bowl, but his ultimate future seems to be at center.

“He’s big enough to play guard and he can play center as well, so that really helps us out a lot,” general manager Martin Mayhew said of Swanson on draft day.

Both Raiola and Sims are entering the final year of their contracts in 2014, and it's logical to think Swanson and Austin are being groomed to eventually fill those shoes.

For now, however, they’ll be competing in training camp to see who plays the more immediate role this year.