O'HARA: Signs point to Swanson as starting center

Posted May 27, 2015

All signs point to Travis Swanson taking over as starting center, but Swanson isn’t making a snap judgement about where he stands in the competition.

Travis Swanson isn’t making a snap judgment about where he stands in the competition to be the Lions’ starting center.

For almost 13 months – since the Lions drafted Swanson in the third round on May 9 last year – all signs have pointed to Swanson being the starting center on opening day of the 2015 season.

Swanson is still on that track in the offseason workouts this year. In Wednesday’s OTA practice that was open to the media, all of the drills pointed to Swanson being the starter.

Travis SwansonC Travis Swanson (Photo: Detroit Lions)

When four centers snapped the ball to the four quarterbacks on the roster in position drills at the start of practice, Swanson was snapping to starting quarterback Matthew Stafford. In other practice periods with the full offense, Swanson was the center on the No. 1 unit.

End of competition? Job won?

Or too early to draw any conclusions?

For Swanson, comment No. 3 is appropriate.

“It’s the second day of OTAs,” he said with a laugh. “It’s too early to draw conclusions on anything. I know everyone is different, but it’s still so early in the football year. The only way you can draw a conclusion is when whoever comes out there at any position at the end when the preseason is over with.

“That’s when your conclusion – quote unquote – will be set in stone. And even at that point, it’s not ever set in stone.”

Quick take: Swanson was drafted for a reason, it’s his job to lose, and he’s done nothing to lose it. And there are no guarantees, either. A player’s status can change in a hurry – up and down, good or bad.

The center spot was Dominic Raiola’s domain for the last 13 years. He started every game except five from opening day of 2002 through the Lions’ playoff loss at Dallas at the end of last season.

Drafting Swanson last year was a signal from Lions management that change was coming. It could have come with flashing red lights – or yellow cautions, at least. The decision announced in January that Raiola would not be re-signed guaranteed a change.

As a rookie without a starting job, Swanson had to play the role of utility man on the offensive line last year. He was a backup at center and both guards, and he also played tight end as an extra blocker in some situations.

He wound up starting four games at right guard when Larry Warford was out with a knee injury and one at center in the final regular-season game that Raiola had to sit out because of a suspension.

This offseason, Swanson’s work has been focused mainly on center.

The official offseason program began on April 20, but Swanson was one of about a half dozen offensive linemen that began working together in Detroit in March.

“I just want to make sure we’re as cohesive a unit with as good chemistry as there is in the league,” Swanson said. “We got together to start working on that chemistry. That’s what you need on the offensive line.

“That’s the main part of my job – when we got up here, to make sure everyone was on the same page. That’s something that doesn’t happen overnight.”

One potential hurdle was put in what looked like an open path for Swanson to start at center. On draft day, the Lions made a trade with Denver that potentially impacted Swanson.

The deal included an exchange of first-round draft picks and gave the Lions Manny Ramirez, who’s been a starter at center and guard for the Broncos the last three years. The Lions used the first-round pick to draft guard Laken Tomlinson of Duke.

Swanson didn’t seem shaken by the deal.

“I control what I can control,” Swanson said. “There are always a ton of things that go through your mind. I'm one of those guys who, you can’t do anything until you come out here. Thank God we’re out here now.”