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O'HARA: Dahl's position versatility a valuable asset

Joe Dahl hasn't had to go far for advice on how to handle being a handyman on the Detroit Lions' offensive line.

Veteran right guard T.J. Lang has been there and done that from one end of the line to the other – and at a high level.

As Dahl heads into his second season with the Lions after getting limited game action last year as a rookie, he has practiced at every position on the line except right tackle.

Lang can attest to the demands of playing more than one position, and the value of players with the ability and disposition to do it.

"It's not as easy as people think," he said. "I've always equated it – and it may not be as tough -- to batting right-handed in baseball and switching over to the left side.

"I've been watching Joe, and he's in at left guard and a play later it's, 'Joe, go to right guard.' He asks me a lot of questions about guard play, and a snap later he's over at center."

"It's not an easy job, but you make yourself very valuable if you're able to play all those positions. It's huge, especially on game day, when you're dressing only seven or eight guys. You don't have a whole backup line. Six guys have to know every position.

"Right now, that probably Joe."

In nine seasons with the Green Bay Packers, Lang played all five positions in at least one regular-season game and started at four. The only position he did not start at was center, and he took some snaps there in an emergency.

Lang was the Packers' starting right guard the last four seasons and made the Pro Bowl in 2016. Lang was signed by the Lions as a free agent in the offseason to start at right guard.

In addition to taking care of his own position, Lang is a mentor for young players like Dahl.

"It's been awesome having T.J. around," Dahl said as the Lions closed out the preseason. "He's great at helping with anything he sees. All the older guys are great at help."

Availability is a valuable asset for a player. So is versatility, and it cuts both ways.

Being able to step in at more than one position gives players an opportunity to build a career as a backup until becoming a starter. From a team's perspective, a player's flexibility can help save a roster spot and use it at another position that needs depth.

"Anyone that has a skill level that will translate and transfer into another position, I think that's helpful," head coach Jim Caldwell said when asked about Dahl.

"Joe's one of those guys that has a good presence of mind. He has a good understanding of his position. He's young, so he's still learning. It's not an easy task moving from position to position, but I do think he's one of those guys that will grow and develop. And the position flexibility doesn't hurt him."

Dahl was regarded as primarily a guard and tackle when the Lions drafted him in the fifth round out of Washington State last year. Now is his second season, Dahl has practiced at every position except right tackle as a Lion.

Shifting between four positions – with more work at center than a year ago – can be a mental and physical strain. It means learning and executing different assignments and techniques while blocking a defender who is grooved at one spot.

"Every position has its own challenges," Dahl said. "One of the biggest differences is the kind of player you're playing against. You're getting stronger guys inside, versus faster players on the edge. You're going to see the best athletes on the field at left tackle."

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