O'Hara: Rob Sims has become a teacher for Larry Warford

Posted Jul 28, 2013

Sims wants to do for young players what tackle Walter Jones and other veterans did for him when he was a rookie with the Seattle Seahawks in 2007

It was one of those veteran-rookie teaching moments. Rob Sims had the lead role of veteran, imparting the wisdom he has gained in seven years as a starting guard in the NFL to rookie Larry Warford.
Rob SimsG Rob Sims

Class was in session because Sims deemed it time to ring the school bell and give Warford the lesson of the day at Lions training camp Sunday morning.

Warford had some good moments, bad moments and average moments. Sims went immediately to Warford's side during the break between periods and had a short, pointed discussion with the rookie.

Sims wants to do for young players what tackle Walter Jones and other veterans did for him when he was a rookie with the Seattle Seahawks in 2007. Sims was at the opposite end of the learning curve. Now it's his turn to play teacher.

"I just know when I was a rookie coming in, there's so much stuff you've got to learn," Sims said. "You've got to learn the plays. You've got to learn the techniques. You have to learn to play through the game.

"It's hard coming into this league, especially for offensive linemen. Everything is so technique-oriented. It's not just your ability.

"It's good for him. It's good for me. He's going to be a good player."

The offensive line is a reconstruction project this year. Three positions will have new starters on a unit that was intact at all five spots for the previous three seasons.

General manager Martin Mayhew said early in the offseason that shoring up the interior of the line was a priority to give Matthew Stafford a cleaner pocket from which to operate. There were too many times last season when pressure up the middle prevented Stafford from stepping into his throws.

Riley Reiff has locked down left tackle, leaving right guard and right tackle open to competition.

Warford, a third-round draft pick from Kentucky, is competing at right guard with veteran Dylan Gandy and Rodney Austin, an intriguing prospect who spent last season on the Lions' practice squad. Austin got considerable time at right guard with the first unit in the team portion of practice Sunday.

Corey Hilliard and Jason Fox are the leaders in the battle at right tackle, with Hilliard appearing to hold a slight edge.

The fact that the Lions targeted a guard in the draft bodes well for Warford's future, but it doesn't mean he'll be the starter on opening day.

Warford spent a month training at former NFL center LeCharles Bentley's training center in Arizona after the mini-camp in late June that concluded the Lions' offseason workout program. Warford said he did 90 minutes of weight training and 45 minutes of technique work daily. He dropped about a dozen pounds, down to 323.

"I only had four days at home," Warford said. "I'm doing 20 times better than I did in the OTAs. I still have a lot to improve  on. It just shows how tough this thing is."

Stafford was sacked 29 times last season, 17th most in the league, but his protection was better than the sack stats indicate.

Stafford led the league with 727 passes attempted. By comparison, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Ben Roethlisberger all were sacked 30 times, but they attempted only 393, 505 and 449 passes respectively.

The issue for Stafford wasn't necessarily total sacks, but the number of times he had to alter his throwing motion or footwork -- or both -- to deal with pressure in his face.

The mandate for the offensive line was to give Stafford a cleaner pocket.

"That was the message this year," said center Dominic Raiola. "It makes him more comfortable. It allows him to do his job and step up and throw the ball. Let's firm up the pocket. We get the message.

"You ask any d-linemen what they want they want to do, and they want to push the pocket. They want to collapse the pocket. They want to make a quarterback move his feet.

"It's our job not to have him do that."