Training Camp Preview: offensive line

Posted Jul 23, 2014

The Lions return all five starters from a unit that was top-five in the NFL last year, but there are a couple young players who want to make their mark.

On the roster – C/G: Dominic Raiola, Larry Warford, Rob Sims, Travis Swanson, Rodney Austin, Garrett Reynolds, Darren Keyton, Alex Bullard and Bryce Quigley

On the roster – T: Riley Reiff, LaAdrian Waddle, Corey Hilliard, Cornelius Lucas, Michael Williams, AJ Dalton

Key loss: None

Making the cut: Raiola, Warford, Sims, Swanson, Austin, Reiff, Waddle and Hilliard

On the bubble: Reynolds, Lucas, Williams, Bullard, Keyton, Quigley and Dalton

Best competition: Waddle vs. Hilliard

Who is the starting right tackle Week 1 vs. the New York Giants?

The smart money is on second-year starter LaAdrian Waddle, but Hilliard isn’t going to let him have it without a good camp competition.

This is the second year in a row Hilliard will be in this spot. He eventually lost the competition to Jason Fox for the starting right tackle spot out of camp last year.

Waddle was a terrific surprise for the Lions last year and was playing as well as anyone upfront before an elbow injury limited him some late in the season.

Waddle is big and strong and the Lions had the most success running the football last year over him and standout right guard Larry Warford.

This should be a good competition to watch over the next few weeks between Waddle and Hilliard.

Best competition #2: Austin vs. Swanson vs. Reynolds for an active role

We’ll see if Austin, Swanson or Reynolds can supplant center Dominic Raiola or guard Rob Sims as a starter.

That seems unlikely at this point, so the trio could instead be competing for two roster spots and a role as the active interior backup on game day.

The Lions have stayed amazingly healthy upfront the last couple years, but that backup role is important in the interior. It was a role played by Dylan Gandy the last few years and requires a player who can perform equally well at both center and guard, if needed.

The Lions love where Austin is headed at guard, they felt highly enough of Swanson’s talents to draft him in the third round and signed Reynolds last week, a player who started 10 games last year for Atlanta.

Who steps up?

2013 Stats
NameGScks AllwdPen
Dominic Raiola 16 0.0 1
Larry Warford 16 0.0 3
Rob Sims 16 2.0 4
Riley Reiff 16 7.0 5
LaAdrian Waddle 12 0.0 2
Rodney Austin 1 0.0 0
Garrett Reynolds 15 4.0 3
Corey Hilliard 9 1.0 0
*Travis Swanson 12 N/A N/A
*Alex Bullard 12 N/A N/A
*Bryce Quigley 13 N/A N/A
*Cornelius Lucas 13 N/A N/A
*AJ Dalton 11 N/A N/A
+Michael Williams 0 0.0 0
+Darren Keyton 0 0.0 0
*college statistics       +did not play in 2013

Twentyman’s take: Offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn has a great problem on his hands.

He returns all five starters from a top-five offensive line last year and also has a good collection of young players eager for their piece of the pie.

LaAdrian WaddleT LaAdrian Waddle (Photo: Detroit Lions)

I’ve always taken the philosophy that if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. Now if Austin or Swanson or someone else comes in and wows in training camp, that’s a different story, but Reiff, Sims, Raiola, Warford and Waddle are only going to get better as a unit the longer they play together.

Warford told this offseason that he wore down at the end of last year and everything he’s done this offseason is to be at his best for 16 games. Warford is going to be even better in 2014.

Waddle didn’t even start until Week 8 as a rookie. He’s going to be better after a full offseason.

The two biggest question marks upfront are if Rob Sims can come back from offseason surgery, and if Raiola can continue to play like he’s find the fountain of youth at age 35.

Austin and Swanson look to be the future at both guard and center. Do they expedite the process in 2014?

By the numbers:

23: Sacks allowed by the offensive line in 2013 in 634 passing plays

4.49: Average yards per attempt when the Lions ran over the right side last year. They averaged 3.92 yards running left and 3.59 yards up the middle

204: Career games played by Dominic Raiola, second on the Lions’ all-time list


“I think you find out that guys that are young, it takes a while in terms of the development of a player, particularly in the offensive line.

“He has certainly shown that he’s made real good progress and had some real fine performances, but it takes you two, three, four years to really perfect your craft in there. (Malcolm) Gladwell says it takes 10 years and 10,000 hours. I’m not certain we’ve got that much time, but nevertheless, he’s coming along. He’s a guy that’s all business. He’s focused and I think you’re just going to see him continue to improve.”

-- Head coach Jim Caldwell on Larry Warford