LIONS INSIDER

What happens if the Lions draft an offensive lineman? What happens if they don't?

Posted Apr 22, 2013

Detroitlions.com lead writer Tim Twentyman takes a look at three different draft scenarios pertaining to the offensive line and how each would affect position competitions

The Lions are looking to add both talent and depth to their offensive line before the 2013 season starts.

Currently, just eight players make up the Lions' offensive line, but there should be few more in the coming weeks.

One or more of those could be filled via this week's NFL Draft.

Here are three scenarios that could play out -- starting as early as Thursday’s first round -- and how they might affect some of the players currently on the roster.

Scenario 1: The Lions select one of the top left tackle prospects with the No. 5-overall pick.

This is a win-win scenario for the Lions. If they get Eric Fisher or Luke Joeckel -- Lane Johnson to a lesser extent -- they get an athletic left tackle with big upside for the foreseeable future.

It also affords them the opportunity to move the versatile Riley Reiff to right guard and potentially get better at two spots with one pick.

Jason Fox and Corey Hilliard would compete for the starting right tackle spot and, suddenly, the Lions are younger and more athletic upfront.

"Obviously, it’s going to be a younger group and definitely a high-energy group," Fox told me Monday. "I think it’ll have guys that want to fly around and hit people in order for our playmakers to make plays."

Scenario 2: The top tackles are gone, but guards Chance Warmack (Alabama) or Jonathan Cooper (North Carolina) are at the top of the Lions' draft board and they select one with the No. 5-overall pick.

Warmack or Cooper would instantly step in and take over the starting right guard spot.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford faced way too much pressure from the interior of the offensive line last year and the right guard spot was a primary culprit. The move is also done in hopes of boosting the Lions’ run game.

In this scenario, Reiff is the favorite to play left tackle. Fox and Hilliard still compete for the right tackle spot and the competition turns out to be one of the better ones this spring and into the fall.

"When you have competition, it brings out the best in people," Hilliard said Monday. "That’s how teams really thrive. If you have guys that get complacent and aren’t really competing for a job (that was) handed to them, they aren’t going to be working as hard, I think."

Hilliard is entering his fifth NFL season. He’s made five starts in four seasons with the Lions, but this is his first real chance to win a starting job out of camp.

"It’s a fun time," he said. "But I also have to go into it knowing that I’m one of the older guys and this is really my chance to make my mark and step in and play. It’s fun, but this is it; am I going to crack through and do this, or am I not? That’s a little pressure."

Fox was drafted in the fourth round in 2010. Injuries kept him off the field for his first two seasons, but he was healthy and available last year and says the injuries are now behind him.

"I’ve been here going on my fourth year, so I’m ready to contribute anywhere they want to put me," Fox said.

"I’ve learned so much from (Backus and Cherilus) my last three years. They are two very good players, but I think we also have good depth in this room and I think guys are ready to step in and compete when their number is called."

In this scenario, Bill Nagy would move over to be primary competition with veteran Dominic Raiola at center. Rodney Austin and Dylan Gandy compete for a backup role at guard alongside any other additions.

Note: If the Lions were to draft a guard/center prospect in the second or third round, these competition battles would look a little different.

Scenario 3: The Lions don’t address the offensive line early in the draft.

If the Lions were to bypass drafting an offensive lineman early in the draft, general manager Martin Mayhew has stated he has a lot of confidence in his young players.

Reiff would get the first crack to win the left tackle job, which is what the Lions envisioned for him when they took him No. 23 overall last year. Fox and Hilliard would compete for the right tackle spot.

Rob Sims would remain the starting left guard and Nagy, Austin and Gandy would compete for the right guard spot. Nagy would split his reps at center, too, competing for both spots.

Austin is a player Mayhew has spoken very highly of this offseason. He only played in three games his senior year at Elon because of a broken foot, but impressed the Lions brass on the practice squad last year after they signed him following last year's draft.

"It’s a race and I’m strapped in ready to go," Austin told me Monday. "I’ve got my blinders on. I’m not really worried about what anybody else is doing. I’m just going to put my head down and play my game and show the coaches that I deserve that spot.

Austin (6-4, 311) is an interesting player to watch in the developing right guard competition because there’s so much unknown there.

"There’s a lot of things people know offensive lineman for," he said. "But I feel like my game is more than that. It’s a little more than just blocking and being stationary and protecting the quarterback.

"I feel like, when given the opportunity, I get downfield a little more than some offensive lineman do. I go down and make those extra-effort plays; topping off piles downfield. I do things people would normally know defensive linemen to do. I feel like I bring that to the offensive side of the ball."

However the scenarios play out this weekend, the Lions are guaranteed at least three new starters on the offensive line in 2013 and could potentially see four.

They’ll be younger and more athletic, but also considerably more inexperienced.

"They are getting young, hungry players that can do what Jeff (Backus) and (Gosder) Cherilus did, we just didn’t have a chance to show it," Hilliard said when asked what Lions fans can expect from the new starters this year. "Now we have the chance to show we can do what they did without any drop-off.

"I really can’t stress anything more than to just watch. I’m confident in us and our group and I think when they tune in on Sunday, they’ll see that."