T.J. Lang has played a lot of football over his 10-year NFL career. He knows what good guard play looks like, and he thinks Detroit has a really good one in the making in Frank Ragnow, the team's first-round pick last offseason.
"It's not easy to come in as a young lineman and be thrown into a starting role, especially with some of the defensive tackles you have to block now," Lang said this week when asked about Ragnow.
"But just the way he approaches the game, sitting in the meetings and asking questions, I think I really bonded with him this year, just because he was so urgent to learn new techniques and learn everything you can about defenses."
There were some ups and downs along the way for Ragnow, like there is with all rookies, but Lang saw more good than bad, and sees the potential for a lot of really good football from Ragnow moving forward.
"He wants to be great and that's something as an older guy to have an opportunity to kind of teach him a little bit, maybe take him under my wing, was an honor," Lang said. "He's got a great future here. He's a strong kid, big kid and great athlete."
Ragnow had games this year where he flashed, but there were also times he showed he was a rookie.
In the Week 3 victory over New England, Ragnow was nearly perfect. He didn't allow as much as a hurry in pass protection, and also helped open the way for running back Kerryon Johnson to break Detroit's streak of games without a 100-yard rusher. He was good the next week in Dallas against a very good Cowboys front and also had a perfect protection line vs. Miami, Chicago (Week 12) and in Arizona.
But there was also the Jets game Week 1, where he allowed four hurries and two quarterback hits. Likely Defensive MVP Aaron Donald got the better of him Week 13 as Ragnow allowed a sack, two quarterback hits and three hurries on Matthew Stafford. To be fair, Donald's done that to a lot of interior offensive linemen throughout the years.
Ragnow said all the right things about that matchup with Donald afterward.
"It was definitely quite the experience," he said. "You watch the tape and you see guys making mistakes and you think, 'Oh, I won't make those mistakes,' and he makes you make those mistakes that you know you're trying not to make.
"So, yeah, he's a really good player. But it's good to go against him like that because that's the standard. That's what I got to get to."
Ragnow finished his rookie campaign strong allowing just four quarterback hurries and no sacks over his last four games.
He'll get his list of areas to improve on just like every player does at their exit interview. But it seems like Ragnow will take that list and bust his butt this offseason to come back better in year two. Lang certainly has no doubt that will be the case.
"I think he's only going to get better," Lang said. "He definitely had games this year where he flashed some All-Pro type of football. That's not a big statement. He's got that type of ability. Definitely has a very, very bright future in this league."