Twentyman: Lions need to bring Backus back

Posted Feb 14, 2012

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. recently took a look at some aging NFL players and offered a suggestion to their franchise for a replacement plan in this year's draft.

Lions left tackle Jeff Backus was on the list.

"I think the Lions have wanted to add more talent to the offensive line for a couple of years, but found too much value at certain picks to pass on those selections," Kiper wrote on

"They simply have to upgrade at left tackle soon. Although you expect Backus to be around, given his ironman run of 176 straight starts, it's crucial that the Lions target a left tackle early."

Kiper suggested the Lions select Ohio State tackle Mike Adams with the 23rd pick in April's draft.

Adams has been moving up a lot of draft boards recently and has potential be a starter as a rookie, but even if the Lions select a tackle like Adams in the draft, re-signing Backus - who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent March 13 - is a must.

Unless the Lions get a proven left tackle in free agency, Backus needs to be in camp come July. There is no one on the roster right now who can step in and start in his place.

Can the Lions really trust quarterback Matthew Stafford's blindside to a rookie not named Matt Kalil (USC) or Riley Reiff (Iowa), the top two tackles in the draft?

An ideal situation for the Lions would be to re-sign Backus at a price that reflects his age, draft or sign a young tackle, and make him beat Backus out for the job -- if he can.

"He wants to play football, he wants to play for us, I want him to play for us, so we'll try to get something worked out with him," Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said of Backus after the season.

The problem the Lions have is they're aging along the offensive line and they don't have a lot of young depth on the roster they can count on.

"I think it's always good to acquire good, young football players and we're aware that we have three starters on our offensive line over 30," Mayhew said. "So, we're looking at that situation closely."

As it stands right now, tackle Corey Hilliard, 26, is the only consistent young reserve tackle the unit has.

Hilliard has stepped in and played well when given the opportunity. He is a restricted free agent in March. The jury is still out if Hilliard can be a full-time starter at left tackle, but he's proven to be reliable and his play has merited continued development.

The team selected tackle Jason Fox in the fourth round of the 2010 draft to be the heir apparent at left tackle, but he can't stay healthy. Knee and foot injuries have derailed Fox's first two seasons and the Lions can't have a lot of confidence that he can stay healthy moving forward.

"Every time he's healthy we've been very happy with what we've seen from him, but a big thing with offensive linemen is durability," said Mayhew of Fox.

"You have to be a guy that can go out there, play 16 games and stay healthy for 16 games. That's two years in a row for him where he hasn't done that, so this is a critical year for him."

Johnny Culbreath, who was recently arrested for possession of marijuana, spent his rookie season on injured reserve and is a project moving forward.

The Lions certainly need to get younger upfront, but younger isn't always better. If the Lions take a left tackle in the draft, in order for him to play, he should have to beat out Backus. If he does, the team has found its left tackle of the future.