One of the best lines in football is that the best ability is availability.
That was an issue for the Detroit Lions’ offensive line in 2017. Injuries hit the Lions hard upfront, as the team played 11 different starting five combinations in 16 games.
“Last year, we thought it was going to be pretty good,” veteran right tackle T.J. Lang said at the Taste of the Lions charity event at Ford Field Wednesday of the expectations he had for the offensive line last year.
Then the injuries started to mount, starting with left tackle Taylor Decker injuring his shoulder in June and missing the first half the season. In all, only one projected starter entering last season, left guard Graham Glasgow, played in all 16 games. The iron man Glasgow played on every offensive snap, in fact.
But there was simply too much shuffling around and too many new guys stepping in to fill holes created by injury to find any real continuity upfront. It's one the reasons the Lions ranked last in rushing, and why Matthew Stafford was the second most sacked quarterback in the league last year.
Health is always the great equalizer in the NFL, and if granted better luck in that department this season, Lang likes Detroit’s potential to be much better upfront in his second season with the team.
“It’s a new team. It’s a new o-line,” Lang said. “Everybody in that room, we have high expectations.
“A lot of that plays into staying healthy and being available, practicing together, having productive meetings. We’ve got lofty goals, but we also understand we’ve got a lot of work to do before we even think about playing football again.”
The addition of new offensive line coach Jeff Davidson, who Lang said Wednesday has been "a great addition to the team," coupled with the drafting of interior lineman Frank Ragnow in the first round and the commitment by Lions general manager Bob Quinn to put serious resources into improving the run game, are tangible things beyond just staying healthy that should help the Lions' offense in 2018.
This is an offense that returns a top-tier quarterback in Stafford, and arguably one of the deepest and most talented wide receiver corps in the NFL.
Everything starts upfront, however. Lang knows that, and is confident that with a little better luck on their side in the injury department they can stand toe to toe with any unit in football.
“I think we’re all happy it’s a new year and we get to start over again,” Lang said. “We have a new group of guys and new coaches.
“I can just tell you everyone is excited just to get back to work and working hard. Obviously, we’ve got some high expectations in our room and we’re just going to keep working hard to make sure that when the time comes to put the helmet on we’re taking the steps in the right direction.”