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O'HARA: Offensive line striving for excellence as camp begins

“Good” is a good starting point in a new season for the Detroit Lions’ offensive line.

It just isn’t good enough.

There are higher goals and greater demands to settle for good.

“I like the fact that you're using the word ‘good,’” offensive line coach Jeff Davidson said Wednesday. “I want to get to where we’re excellent. I want those guys to feel that.

“There’s a pressure related behind that – the competition that’s occurring with that. That’s what we’re trying to push going forward.”

The shuffle of the interior of the offensive line after the unit achieved a level of consistency at four of the five positions last season is an area that will be under close scrutiny from the opening day of training camp until the start of the regular season – and perhaps beyond.

The reworking of the line began in the offseason, with the switch of 2018 first-round draft pick Frank Ragnow to center from left guard, where he started all 16 games as a rookie.

That switch was an unexpected development in a unit that was solid a season ago in four of the five positions. In addition to Ragnow, left tackle Taylor Decker and center Graham Glasgow started all 16 games. Right tackle Rick Wagner missed only one start.

The only position that was projected to have any change this year was right guard, where T.J. Lang missed 10 games because of injuries. Lang retired this offseason.

It’s likely that there will be new starters from a year ago at left guard, center and right guard, with Decker and Wagner set at their positions of a year ago.

That’s a lot of movement for a unit that was generally good a year ago.

“We’re trying to create competition,” Davidson said. “I would not say we are anywhere near a finished product at this point. Guys are going to continue to move around to create competition – to ultimately be able to get our best five on the field.”

Based on what was seen in offseason practices open to the media, left guard is the position most open to competition. Kenny Wiggins, who started 10 games at right guard in place of Lang last year, starts camp as the leading candidate to start on the left side. Glasgow has the inside track at right guard.

Players like Joe Dahl, a fifth-round draft pick in 2016 who showed some versatility last year, and offseason free-agent addition Oday Aboushi are among those in the competition at guard.

Aboushi has been with four teams in five seasons and started games at right or left guard all five years – including six games at right guard for the Cardinals last year.

View photos of players arriving for 2019 Detroit Lions Training Camp presented by Rocket Mortgage on Wednesday, July 24, 2019 in Allen Park, Mich.

The running game showed the most improvement last year. The Lions averaged 103.8 yards per game and an average of 4.1 yards per attempt compared to a league-low 76.3 yards per game and 3.4 yards per attempt in 2017. Quarterback Matthew Stafford was sacked 40 times compared to 47 in 2017.

There is also a leadership void created by Lang’s retirement. Even though he was a Lion for only two seasons and had his playing time diminish because of injuries, Lang was a respected veteran who was a good sounding board, especially for younger players.

“That’s one of the big questions we have going in here,” Davidson said. “We’re looking for the guys who are willing to step up and be leaders in that room. My expectation is that they all are.

“We say it starts up front. I say it starts up front. I want them to say it starts up front.”

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