O'Hara: Last year Riley Reiff was a first-round prospect, this year, he knows where he'll be working

Posted Jan 25, 2013

The coaching staff and management are high on Riley Reiff, and his workload likely will increase in 2013. Depending on what moves are made in free-agency and the draft, Reiff is almost certain to start at tackle – left or right – or guard.

Riley ReiffRiley Reiff’s daily routine is a lot like last year’s at this time. He works out daily at the University of Iowa’s athletic facility and commutes back home to Parkston, South Dakota.

Iowa provides a good work environment for football players, especially offensive linemen. Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz is known for developing offensive linemen, and the school’s strength and conditioning program is well regarded.

For Reiff, there is one big difference between this year and last - he knows where he’ll be working.

Last year, he was a first-round prospect waiting to get drafted by a team – any team.

If Reiff watches the first round of the NFL draft on April 25, it will be as a spectator. A year ago, he watched the draft at Boog’s Bar in Parkston with friends and family members.

Reiff was rated the No. 2 offensive tackle in the draft behind Matt Kalil of Southern Cal,. And was projected to go in the top half of the draft.

Reiff’s name remained on the board until the 23rd pick, when he got calls from his agent, Neil Cornich, and the Lions informing him that the wait was over, and Reiff was the Lions’ first-round pick.

That ended the drama and shifted the party into a higher gear. There was a bonus for Reiff. Watching on TV, he saw All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson announce his name as the Lions’ top pick.

“To have Calvin Johnson announce your name, that pretty cool,” Reiff said over the telephone from Iowa during a break in his training schedule.

“It’s hard not to hear about a guy like him. Then I got to meet him. He’s a great guy. A hard worker. He’s just a normal guy.

”He treats everybody the way they want to be treated. Everybody knows about his physical talent.”

His rookie season was a development year for Reiff. Most of his playing time came as an extra lineman. He started one game at left tackle in place of Jeff Backus, who missed his first pro game in 12 seasons because of a hamstring injury.

The coaching staff and management are high on Reiff, and his workload likely will increase in 2013. Depending on what moves are made in free-agency and the draft, Reiff is almost certain to start at tackle – left or right – or guard.

Reiff isn’t getting caught in in trying to figure where he might play. The focus of his workouts is to play wherever the Lions want him.

With his rookie season behind him, Reiff has only a passing interest – or in his case as an offensive linemen, a blocking interest – in the draft.

Reiff experienced the pitfalls, preparation,  anxiety and the ultimate reward of the draft process.

Draft day is the shining moment for the 255 players who will have their names called, but it’s the end point of a long and stressful period. Training for the Combine in Indianapolis, pro day workouts and visits to team headquarters are all part of the routine.

Reiff was a fourth-year junior with another year of eligibility left at Iowa when he declared for the draft. Playing at a major college that has sent scores of players to the NFL helped guide him through the maze of draft.

With so much information and resources available, the draft isn’t a great mystery anymore. Reiff relied on his agent and former Iowa players for advice.

“Both,” he said. “The agents do a really good job, showing you how it goes. It’s a long year. Most people know what they’re getting into.”

Reiff trained at Iowa rather than go to a workout camp to prepare for the draft. He was comfortable with Iowa’s staff, and other players were workout partners.

“I had a really good strength coach (Chris Doyle),” Reiff said. “I decided to stay there. It worked out. There were six or seven guys – a handful of guys – and a bunch of older players around the building working out.

“We did a lot of position work, but really most of it was what we learned from college.

“My mindset was that you have to get ready for everything. Every meeting, everything you do, you want to come out with the feeling that you’re worthy of being drafted. Everything, do the best you can, as hard as you can.

“Try to impress some people.”

Reiff had made an impression on the scouts as a tough, athletic and durable offensive lineman. He was primarily a left tackle, but he had experience at guard.

Workouts at the Combine and on pro days are only part of the scouting equation. Many top prospects do not do drills at the Combine, or participate on a limited basis, under the theory that they will be better prepared later on pro day.

“I’m not a big believer in that stuff (waiting),” Reiff said. “It means something. You have nothing to hide. Why not do it? I don’t know if it helped me. I don’t think it hurt me.”

Reiff did all the drills at the Combine and solidified his first-round status. He had the measurable – 6-6, 313 pounds, a time of 5.23 seconds in the 40-yard dash and 23 repetitions of 225 pounds.

The Combine is taxing physically and mentally because of time demands over a three-day period, when prospects take exhaustive physical exams, meet with teams, do media interviews and do drills.

“It’s a crazy three days,” Reiff said. “I hope kids realize that. It’s a lot of work. They keep you up late. They work you out pretty good. You’ve got to be ready to go.”

Under NFL rules, teams are allowed a 15-minute meeting with a maximum of 60 players at the Combine. Reiff met with the Lions, but they were not one of the “six or seven” teams that brought him in for personal visits.

After all of that – the workouts, the Combine, visiting teams, more workouts – there is nothing left but to wait.

Reiff declined the NFL’s offer to attend the first round at the league’s draft headquarters at Radio City Music Hall.

“I decided to stay home and enjoy it all with my family,” he said.

A long process preparing for the draft turned into a fairly short night for Reiff and his family. The draft began at 7 p.m. (Central time). Before 10, Calvin Johnson announced that Reiff was his new teammate on the Lions. That ended all the anxiety.

“You start getting a little bit nervous,” Reiff said. “You start thinking a little bit – ‘Who’s going to draft me?’ I never really asked anybody how that last day goes.

“You’re sitting around with the family. It’s a great feeling once you get that call.”