O'HARA: Veteran center Dominic Raiola has become accustomed to change

Posted Apr 22, 2014

As Dominic Raiola begins his 14th season with the Lions, he has become accustomed to the changes that come along with a new coaching staff and scheme.

Jim Caldwell’s coaching resume and experience give him a ring of credibility with the Lions.

Part of it comes from the even-tempered personality and direct approach with players that he has exhibited as a head coach and assistant coach in the NFL.

Jim CaldwellHead coach Jim Caldwell (Photo: Gavin Smith)

“It’s just a calm feeling around the building,” center Dominic Raiola said Tuesday after the first day of voluntary mini-camp for veterans under Caldwell.  “You’ve got a sense that this guy has been there and done that, and he has.

“You look at his track record, more so being around him -- not just hearing about it. It’s fun to be around him and be back and hear what everybody was saying for a couple months. That really is him.

“It’s a sense of calm and a sense of we’re going to do things his way, and that’s it. That’s the bottom line. There’s nothing more to it.”

Caldwell has something else that adds to his credibility. In addition to two playoff appearances and a trip to the Super Bowl in his three seasons as head coach of the Colts, Caldwell has two Super Bowl rings as an assistant coach – from the 2006 Colts and the 2012 Baltimore Ravens.

“That’s credibility,” Raiola said. “He’s a proven winner. He’s been in coaching for a long time, and he’s been successful at it.”

As he begins his 14th season with the Lions, Raiola has become accustomed to change. Caldwell is the sixth head coach he has played for, and there has been a succession of coordinators and assistant coaches.

Some things don’t change, and one of them is controversy. This year it involves teammate Ndamukong Suh’s absence from the two weeks of voluntary workouts and the three-day mini-camp.

Raiola answered a number of questions about Suh’s absence and insisted that he’s not concerned about him being in shape and ready to play when he shows up – whenever that is.

“There are I don’t know how many guys here at this mini-camp,” Raiola said. “There are a lot of guys who have to learn a lot of things. For us to sit here and focus on Ndamukong, it’s not fair to everybody else.

“Everybody does their part. He’ll be back when he’s back.”

So why is Raiola here when he could be home in Hawaii?

“Why?” Raiola replied. “I’ve got nothing better to do.”

Raiola was joking, but he has always attended offseason workouts and mini-camps.

“You know what, honestly?” he said. “This is home for me. Who knows what he’s doing? For me, this is home. What I said earlier, I’m sticking to it. We don’t need the kind of attention that people are assuming. Whatever he’s missing, he’ll pick up.”

Raiola and the rest of the offense have concerns about their own issues. They have a new system to learn under offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, who spent the last seven seasons in New Orleans.

There’s a long way to go from mini-camp in April to the start of the season in September, but Raiola already has seen how the scheme will be different.

“It’s a wide-open offense,” Raiola said. “It’s one that scores a lot of points when it’s run right, obviously. It’s successful.”

Raiola has made personal changes. A year ago, he decided he needed to gain weight to compete better against big defensive tackles. He put on about 15 pounds, up to 310, and had one of his best seasons. He went through the same regimen this year to keep the weight on.

However, at 35, and after 204 career games and 188 starts, Raiola knows that the end of his career is in sight. He feels like he can play two more seasons – at least – but it’s also likely that the Lions will draft a center next month to groom as his eventual replacement.

“I’ve always been a team guy,” Raiola said. “As long as I’m doing my job, I should have a job on the field. I’m not going to last forever. It’s not an easy position to learn. If they draft somebody, so be it. I guess I get to teach him.

“I’m not going to have any hard feelings. I’m not that kind of teammate.”