The Lions used a first-round draft pick on an offensive tackle this year for the first time since 2008 when they took
“Riley's on track to play a lot of football for us really early,” said Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan this offseason. “He's an exceptional talent, and he's a great kid. He's going to really help us on our offensive line. Where he ends up this year really hasn't been determined yet. But we're just happy with what we've seen so far. We think he's going to be a heck of a player."
The most likely landing spot for Reiff if he plays early this season is right tackle. The Lions re-signed
Cherilus doesn’t get enough credit for playing 15 games last season following microfracture surgery, but he was inconsistent at times. Cherilus is also entering the final year of his five-year, $15 million rookie deal.
The Lions could decide to put Reiff at guard, but Linehan told Detroitlions.com this offseason that he prefers to keep players at the positions they were drafted at and will play in the future. That’s tackle for Reiff.
“I think the great thing about him is his versatility,” Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said of Reiff. “He’s played primarily tackle out here, but I think he could probably play guard if he needed to. But I see him playing tackle for us and we’ll see kind of how it all falls - if he’s a starter from Day 1 or if he eventually takes over. He’s an eventual starter and a long-time starter for us.”
We’ll find out early on in training camp where the Lions stand with their plans for Reiff.
By the numbers:
36: Sacks allowed by the Lions offensive line in 2011, ranking 17th in NFL.
5.1: Percentage of sacks given up per passing play in 2011, ranking 10th in the league.
47: Games started by Jason Fox in college at Miami, one behind the all-time record for the university. Fox has played in just four games his first two seasons in the NFL because of injury.
The Lions had four tackles (Backus, Cherilus, Hilliard and Fox) on the 53-man roster for it’s season-opener against the Buccaneers last year. Teams normally keep eight or nine offensive lineman with four tackles. Now that Reiff is in the mix, it appears the Lions will have a couple tough cuts at tackle.
If Reiff wins the starting right tackle spot, Cherilus, Hilliard, Fox and Culbreath are competing for essentially two spots. Cherilus has started 53 games in four seasons for the Lions and if he loses his starting spot to Reiff, he’d be an experienced backup.
The Lions thought enough of Hilliard to offer him a restricted free agent tender worth $1.26 million this year. He’s got five starts under his belt and can play both the right and left sides.
The Lions think Fox has the potential to be really good, the only problem is that he can’t stay healthy. Heading into his third season, Fox has to stay on the field during camp or he won’t be on the roster at the end of it.
Culbreath was a project when the Lions drafted him in the seventh round in 2011 and a stint on the injured reserve list last year and a run-in with the law this offseason hasn’t helped his cause. He’ll have to have a tremendous camp to crack the top 53. He’s a practice squad candidate.
Let the competition begin.
Player to watch:
Jason Fox looks every bit like an NFL tackle. He’s big. He’s strong. He moves well for his size. Everything looks the part. The Lions think their fourth-round pick from 2010 has all the makings to be a good one. The only problem is that they’ve haven’t seen enough of him on the field to be certain.
“It is all about reps for him, because when he has been healthy, he’s (done well in practice),” said Lions coach Jim Schwartz in June. “But, he hasn’t had consistent streaks of being healthy. This offseason was good for him up until last week when his knee started getting sore he was doing very well.”
Fox missed all of last season with foot and knee problems and missed the team’s June mini-camp because soreness developed in his knee.
“He needs to put some time together where he’s injury free from an evaluation standpoint and proving that he can stay healthy over a long term,” Schwartz said. “It’s not just ability, its availability. It’s an old cliché, but it’s true in situations like that.”
No one questions that Fox has talent and this training camp is the most important he’s faced in his short NFL career to prove it. Fox has to stay out of the training room. If he does, he’ll make the Lions decision on which tackles they ultimately keep a difficult one.
“I think for offensive lineman in this league, you have to be a guy that can get out there and play 16 games,” Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said of Fox this offseason.
"It's two years in a row where he hasn't done that, so this is a critical year for him."