There is very little variation on the theme in the challenges facing the Detroit Lions’ offensive line.
Run the ball better.
Protect the quarterback better.
It’s been said before and will be repeated until there is improvement in those two areas that hampered the offense last year. The Lions ranked last in the NFL in rushing yards per game, and quarterback Matthew Stafford was sacked a career-high 47 times with 565 pass attempts, the fewest of his career for a full season.
Jeff Davidson, the Lions’ new offensive line coach, has heard enough, seen enough and experienced enough in his combined 29 NFL seasons as an offensive lineman (1990-94) and assistant coach (1995-present) to know how to change opinions.
It starts up front with the offensive line. That’s especially true of the running game. Most offensive linemen say they prefer run blocking for the way it can set the tempo of a game.
“That’s certainly the case,” Davidson said during the interview session with the Lions’ assistant coaches this week.
“As an offensive lineman, it’s something I don’t mind sharing. I think it’s important that we take it on ourselves to say that we have to be able to earn the next run. You have to be good at one to get another one dialed up. That should be our intent.
“The better we take ownership of our individual jobs, the better off we’re going to be. It’s just as important that we’re on the same page in the run game as it is in pass protection.”
With next week’s mandatory minicamp and the final three OTA practices the following week all that’s left in the supervised offseason workouts, the foundation is being built for the offensive line to take to training camp.
There are 16 offensive linemen on the offseason roster. Davidson has not committed to naming any starters or primary backups, but some conclusions are logical.
Four starters are back -- tackles Rick Wagner and Taylor Decker, right guard T.J. Lang, and Graham Glasgow, who started at left guard and center. First-round draft pick Frank Ragnow, who played center at Arkansas the last two years, practiced at left guard in the only workout open to the media to date.
“There’s a chance it might go right up to the season,” Davidson said when asked where Ragnow might land. “We’ll make a decision to go forward as soon as it truly presents itself.”
General manager Bob Quinn has made it clear through actions and words that he was not happy with the unit’s performance last year, despite the resources that have been invested in it in the form of draft picks and premium free-agent signings.
Hiring Davidson was a key step in the unit’s renovation. The Lions are the eighth team in his tour through the NFL as an assistant that began with the Saints in 1995 when his playing career was cut short by a shoulder injury.
Davidson has a connection with Quinn and first-year head coach Matt Patricia from the eight seasons (1997-2004) Davidson spent as an assistant with the Patriots.
Davidson hired Hank Fraley, who played 11 NFL seasons (2000-10) as a center, as his assistant in Detroit.
Davidson does not consider having played in the NFL an important part of his resume.
“I don’t know that it really matters if we played in the league or not,” he said. “I draw on a lot of things. Most of it is watching film now.”
In his post-draft press conference, Quinn cited the offense’s inability to convert short-yardage opportunities as one example when he said the team had an overall lack of physicality.
“We’re looking for smart and tough to start with,” Davidson said. “If we’re not answering the bell there, we're doing something wrong.
“I don’t think you create toughness in players. I think they have it, or they don’t. It’s one of those things. We want to find the right guys to have here.”