MIKE O'HARA

Bill Nagy's unexpected road to Detroit has resulted in big opportunity

Posted Mar 29, 2013

Martin Mayhew says the question with center-guard Bill Nagy isn't ability, it's availability

Bill Nagy experienced one of those moments that was so unexpected and bizarre that he might have felt like he was living a real-life dream or waking up from a nightmare.
Bill NagyG Bill Nagy (AP Images)

Whichever it was – and it turned out to be a real-life experience – Nagy found himself sitting alone on a plane after it arrived in Dallas last August and trying to sort out the circumstances that had resulted in his unexpected career shift.

Nagy had left Charlotte, where he underwent surgery on his injured left ankle, and returned to Dallas to rejoin the Cowboys and begin the rehabilitation process to continue his career as a promising young member of their offensive line.

When the wheels hit the tarmac at Dallas-Fort Worth, Nagy landed in a new world. His cellphone was loaded with missed calls. The most important ones welcomed him home – to his new home in Detroit, with the Lions.

What happened to Dallas?

Had Alfred Hitchcock bought the franchise from Jerry Jones and decided to film a Hard Knocks' version of the "Twilight Zone " and made Nagy the lead character who flew home to Dallas and landed in Detroit?

While other passengers were getting off the plane, Nagy said he sat and tried to make sense of what had just happened.

"After surgery, you're not necessarily all there, " Nagy said the other day. "I had voicemails and texts saying, ‘Welcome to Detroit. Great to have you.' Everything like that.

"I felt like it was one of those things where I'm sitting on the plane and everybody's getting off, and I had no idea where my next move was. "

Nagy may have taken a strange path to Detroit, but he has landed in a good place to resume his career.

The Lions are rebuilding the offensive line, and Nagy has a chance to play center or guard, depending on how things shake out in the offseason and in training camp.

Although his departure from Dallas was out of the ordinary, it had little real impact on him last season. After the surgery, he was going to spend the season on injured reserve. The only difference was, he spent it with the Lions, not the Cowboys.

He was waived injured by the Cowboys on Aug. 15, apparently with the expectation by the Cowboys' front office that Nagy would clear waivers and remain with the team on their reserve list.

Those plans were foiled when the Lions put in a claim and were awarded Nagy's rights. The Lions felt it was worth stashing Nagy on IR for the year because he was a solid, young prospect who had started four games at left guard for the Cowboys as a rookie in 2011.

None of that kept Nagy's head from spinning for awhile, but he's gotten over it and feels he's in a good spot in Detroit.

The strange part of last season was that for most of it, Nagy wasn't really part of any team. The Lions let him go home to Cleveland, where he spent most of the first half of the season doing rehab. After that, he began working at Allen Park and sitting in on team meetings.

"It was definitely weird," Nagy said of the first few months of last season. "I felt like I was caught in between things, just the way it happened. Getting picked up in Detroit was definitely interesting, but I'm in a good place now.

"I'm happy with the way it played out. I'm fortunate that another team, such as the Lions, thought enough of me to take a risk, knowing I was hurt and wasn't able to contribute. I was cool with that. "

Detroit's offensive line is undergoing a major overhaul after being the team's most static unit the last five seasons. Left guard Rob Sims and center Dominic Raiola are the only returning starters.

Right tackle Gosder Cherilus signed with Indianapolis as a free agent. Left tackle Jeff Backus retired. Right guard Stephen Peterman was released. That leaves three spots to fill.

Nagy, 6-3 and 308 pounds, was primarily a right guard at Wisconsin, but he was rated a center in the 2011 draft. The Cowboys took him in the seventh round.

Nagy made the roster and was an opening-day starter at left guard. He started three more games before his season ended in the sixth game because of a broken left ankle. His second season ended early because of a severe ankle sprain sustained in an exhibition game against the Patriots.

Injuries also cut into Nagy's playing time in college. General Manager Martin Mayhew said the issue for Nagy is availability, not ability, and the plan is to look at him at guard and center.

"You will see him at both positions through the offseason, training camp and preseason," Mayhew said at last week's league meetings in Phoenix. "Once we get into the season, if he is a starter, then he will stay at one position. If not, then he will continue to work at both."

Rodney Austin, who spent his rookie season on the practice squad, is another candidate to get playing time but he's primarily a guard.

"Where Nagy is 50-50 guard-center, Austin is more 75-25 guard-center, " Mayhew said.

Last season was an adjustment period for Nagy, but there were no divided loyalties between the Cowboys and Lions, even though he didn't play a game for his new team.

"I was rooting for the Lions, " he said. "I was sitting in meetings and hanging around the facility. For the second half of the year, I was getting to know the guys. I was trying to get acquainted with everybody. At the same time, I hadn't played at all. I hadn't practiced.

"I'm getting closer and closer every day. We're going to take it day by day. I feel good."