MIKE O'HARA

O'Hara: Brown will be watching development along the Lions' offensive line

Posted May 3, 2013

Lomas Brown weighs in on the difficulty of transitioning from the college game to the pros for offensive linemen

It would be natural for Lomas Brown to focus on the left tackle a little longer than the other positions on the Lions’ offensive line as he watches the progress of the unit’s rebuild project this year.

But left tackle isn’t the only position Brown is looking at as the Lions use the offseason to begin a wide-ranging overhaul of a unit that had the same five starters for the last three seasons.

Brown wants to see the development of Riley Reiff, last year’s first-round draft pick, at left tackle, but right guard has his interest, too. That’s where massive Larry Warford, a third round pick out of Kentucky, is expected to line up.

Larry WarfordG Larry Warford (Photo: AP Images)

There’s a lot to watch on the offensive line, where the only returning starters are left guard Rob Sims and center Dominic Raiola. And Raiola is facing legitimate competition for the first time since he became the starting center in 2002.

Barring further additions in the offseason, Jason Fox and Corey Hilliard will compete for the starting job at right tackle. Fox has never started a game in three seasons as a Lion. Hilliard has five starts in five pro seasons but only one in the last two years.

There is a lot to watch in the offensive line’s transition. It willl be on a steep learning curve because of the lack of starting experience.

“That’s the thing that scares me about this year,” Brown said. “Everybody is excited about Reggie Bush and all the possibilities we have. But my thing is, if there’s no cohesion on the offensive line, you’re trying to piece it together.

“That’s the one unit -- the offensive line -- that’s got to work like a hand in the glove. Everybody’s got to know what each other’s doing. That comes with practicing together, being around each other.

“It’s a real learning curve. They’re going to try to speed it up in the OTAs and training camp. It’s going to be hard.”

Brown speaks from experience. He played 11 of his 18 pro seasons at left tackle for the Lions. He was a natural pass protector when he arrived in 1985 as a first-round draft pick out of Florida.

Brown learned early and stayed late at his position. He made seven Pro Bowls, six as a Lion from 1985-95.

He wound up playing on two Super Bowl teams. The 2000 Giants lost to the Ravens. He won a Super Bowl with the 2002 Bucs. It was his last NFL season, and his only one as a backup.

Brown has high expectations for Reiff, based on what he saw from his last year, as he moves into a position left open by the retirement of Jeff Backus after 12 seasons.

His concern for Warford at right guard is whether he has the quickness to handle the rapid adjustments that are required by guards.

Reiff was drafted in 2012 to be the eventual replacement for Backus. His opportunity to start has come with Backus’ decision in March to retire.

“I like Riley,” Brown said. “To begin with, he’s almost built like Jeff. (Reiff is listed at 6-6, 313 pounds; Backus was 6-5, 305.) He doesn’t have real long arms. He’s not an overly big guy. He seems to have pretty good feet. His technique seems to be pretty good.”

What Brown likes most about Reiff is his competitive temperament.

“He’s got some dog in him,” Brown said, meaning it as a compliment. “He gets after people.”

Warford is listed at 6-2 and 332 pounds, but there are reports that he has gotten as heavy as 350. His strength is his strength, and he used it against some of the best defensive tackles in the Southeastern Conference. Seven from the SEC were drafted this year.

“That lets me know the young man can come in and be effective and could come in and start because of the competition he’s come up against,” Brown said. “That lets me know he’s a tough guy.

“Being a little biased, I think the SEC is the best conference, and you get the best players – guys like Sharrif Floyd (of Florida), some of the guys at LSU, Alabama and some of the other places.”

In some ways, Brown thinks the ability to react quickly is more important for a guard than for a tackle, even though guards get help from the center and tackle.

“The left tackle, you get beat, there’s nobody to help you,” he said. “The next stop for that defensive end is the back of your quarterback. From that standpoint, it’s harder to play the tackle position than the guard position in the NFL.

“But things happen so fast on the inside. What he (Warford) is going to face first of all, he’s going to be shocked by the speed of the game, how quick all these guys are. The second thing, he’s going to have to get adjusted to the wide technique. Those defensive tackles can line up head up, they can line up in the wide ‘three’, they can line up inside at the zero.

“In college, you mostly get a guy head up. They don’t do a lot of things. In the pros, it’s going to be a different set, a different adjustment. They’re so intelligent, they can read plays and get there in a hurry.

“What I think they want to use this guy for is a grinder, be a road-grader and clear out space between those tackles for the running back. I don’t think they’ll have him do things that he not good at.”