What the Lions lost in experience along their offensive line they've gained in athleticism

Posted May 26, 2013

The departure of veterans across the offensive line has given players like Riley Reiff, Jason Fox, Corey Hilliard and Larry Warford the opportunity to step up in their place

What the Lions lost in experience along their offensive line this offseason, they've gained in athleticism.

Departed are longtime left tackle Jeff Backus, who retired in March after 12 seasons, right tackle Gosder Cherilus, who left via free agency to Indianapolis, and right guard Stephen Peterman, who was released following the season.

In their place steps Riley Reiff, 24, at left tackle, Jason Fox, 25, or Corey Hilliard, 28, at right tackle and Larry Warford, 21, at right guard.

Riley ReiffT Riley Reiff

How exactly that youth and athleticism will impact the Lions' offense in 2013 is yet to be determined, but there are some who are eager to find out.

"We'll see (how it changes the offense)," quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "We have to kind of get to know everybody and get the feeling on what guys are good at and what guys aren't good at. Obviously, (then) play to our strengths.

"You would think that having young guys in there would help with the athleticism, and I think it will, so I'm excited to see what they can bring."

Reiff, Fox and Warford are the most likely replacements at all three spots. That trio has a combined one-career start between them, but Stafford said he doesn't expect any significant drop-off upfront.

"I don't expect a big change," Stafford said Wednesday, after the Lions' second OTA practice of the spring. "I think we're extremely talented up front and, obviously, right now, we didn't even hardly work with the offensive line at all (Wednesday), just some stuff at the very end.

"But through OTAs and through minicamp, that kind of stuff will start figuring itself out, and we'll be ready to go."

Stafford faced way too much pressure from the interior of the line last season, which was one of the reasons the Lions didn't retain Peterman and Warford was selected in the third round of last month's NFL Draft.

Stafford said it's also on him to get better at feeling where the pressure is coming from.

"Anytime you play quarterback, your dream is a perfect pocket every time," Stafford said. "But let's be honest, it's the NFL. The defensive guys get paid to rush the passer.

"But that's something that we'll focus on like we do every year is improving the pocket and me moving in the correct ways; left, right, up, back, whatever it is, to avoid pressure. So that's something we're constantly working on and something that we're going to have an emphasis on this spring."

However the competitions in training camp shake out, the Lions will be younger, faster, stronger, and -- yes -- more inexperienced up front. That athleticism might allow for more movement, more pulling and guys getting to the second and third levels. Linemen getting more active and downfield on screen passes.

"(We) got guys who are younger ... guys that can move around a little better," tight end Brandon Pettigrew said of the new faces upfront. "They are trimmed up a little bit. They are still strong, but they can definitely move around a little bit more on screens and as a far as pulling around (the edge). We definitely have an athletic offensive line."

How quickly those younger pieces gel together to form one cohesive unit alongside veterans Dominic Raiola and Rob Sims will ultimately decide how good the Lions will be on offense in 2013.