As a new member of the Detroit Lions' coaching staff, Hank Fraley brings with him a track record as a player of being forced into starting roles because of emergencies and helping his unit produce long-term results.
Fraley, who was hired last week as the assistant under offensive line coach Jeff Davidson, made a mark in an 11-year career primarily as the starting center for the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns.
With Fraley as the starter, the Eagles and Browns routinely ran through the 100-yard rushing mark – something that for the Lions has been like running through a steel curtain the last four seasons.
From 2014-17, the Lions hit the 100-yard rushing mark as a team only 12 times in 64 regular-season games. In the 2002 regular season alone, the Eagles had 14 100-yard games as a team – two more than the Lions produced in four full seasons.
Detroit's running game bottomed out in 2017, ranking last in the NFL in yards per game (76.3) and tying for last in average gain per carry (3.4).
Improving the running game is a priority for the 2018 season, and a change in the unit's assistant coaches is part of it. Turnover at the position is certain, either in the draft or free agency – or both.
What impact new staff and players will have remains to be seen, but Fraley's background and experience offer hope for a step forward.
As a player, Fraley entered the NFL with the Steelers in 2000 as an undrafted free agent out of Robert Morris. He was released at the end of camp, claimed on waivers by the Eagles, and spent his rookie season on the 53-player roster without being active for a game.
An injury opened the way for Fraley as Philly's opening-day starter in 2001. The circumstances were almost identical in 2006, when the Browns acquired him before the start of the season to fill a need created by injuries – most notably to Pro Bowl center LeCharles Bentley.
Regardless of the circumstances, the results speak for themselves. The Eagles and Browns had the following stats with Fraley as the full-time starting center:
Eagles: Fraley started 71 of 72 games from opening day of 2001 through Game 8 of 2005, when he sustained a season-ending shoulder injury. In that span, the Eagles hit the 100-yard rushing mark 41 times. Of those 41 games, 14 went for at least 150 yards and four at least 200.
Browns: In 48-regular season starts (2006-08), the Browns hit the 100-yard mark in 21, 150 yards seven times and 200 once.
Combined Eagles-Brown stats (2001-08): 120 games (119 starts by Fraley), 62 100-yard games, 150 yards 21 times, 200 yards five times.
Fraley was switched to primarily a backup role at guard and tight end in 2009. He finished his season with the Rams in 2009, playing seven games without a start.
Fraley was popular in Cleveland for the way he interacted with the fans, as detailed by columnist Tony Grossi of ESPNCleveland.com in the following e-mail:
"Man of the people. Often tailgated with fans on his way home from games. Joe Thomas (Browns legendary offensive tackle) loves him."