O'HARA: Quinn relentless in improving Lions' o-line

General manager Bob Quinn has matched his words with his actions in building the Detroit Lions’ roster.

It starts up front.

What was at least a mild surprise – drafting center Frank Ragnow of Arkansas in the first round Thursday night – really shouldn’t have been a surprise. At least not the unit Quinn targeted for the first pick.

From the first pick of his first draft as GM in 2016 through three offseasons of free-agent signings and the start of this year’s draft, Quinn has been relentless in adding players to the offensive line.

He drafted three offensive linemen in 2016 – tackle Taylor Decker in the first round, center/guard Graham Glasgow in the third and guard Joe Dahl in the fifth.

In 2017 he signed two high-value free agents to start on the right side of the line – guard T.J. Lang and tackle Rick Wagner. There were other free agent linemen signed this year to add depth and competition.

And on Thursday night, Quinn began the 2018 draft by taking Ragnow with the 20th pick overall.

Why so much focus on the offensive line?

“I think it starts in the trenches,” Quinn said, reiterating a belief he expressed during his first draft in 2016.

“I think it starts up front. I think we want to build through the middle of our team – through the offensive line, through the defensive line through the middle.

“That’s what we believe in.”

The offensive line is one of those positions in professional sports that gets more talk than love among most fans. They extoll the value of the offensive line – and then question why teams draft offensive linemen high, especially guards and centers.

And that’s understandable. The offensive line is the only position in football that can’t be evaluated by positive individual stats. There are no catches, touchdowns, yards gained, interceptions, sacks, field goals or punts inside the 20-yard line to rate players.

It’s the negative stats that stand out, and the Lions had those last year in a season when the offensive line was decimated by injuries.

The Lions were last in the NFL in rushing, averaging 76.3 yards per game, and quarterback Matthew Stafford was sacked a career-high 47 times despite attempting a career-low 565 passes for a full season.

A last-place running game, plus a quarterback under siege, are not the elements that produce a winning formula.

Ragnow was a versatile player at Arkansas. He was a full-time starter at right guard as a sophomore, then moved to center for his last two seasons. His 2017 season – and his college career – ended because of an ankle injury sustained in the seventh game.

He had one impressive stat at Arkansas. He did not give up a sack in his career.

It remains to be seen whether he plays guard or center for the Lions. Glasgow played center at Michigan but has started at guard and center in two seasons as a Lion.

Quinn defined Ragnow’s position with the Lions, at least for a start, as “interior offensive line.”

“Once Frank gets here, we’ll talk to him a little more, put him in our offense – put him in our schemes,” Quinn said.

All the hoopla and hype surrounding the first round of the draft – and some groans from fans who think their team should have focused on another position for its first pick – should not obscure the fact that it’s just the start of the draft.’

It’s an important start, but there are six more rounds left – rounds two and three Friday, and the remaining four rounds on Saturday.

Quinn still has work to do in those two days. The defensive line and running back are still a priority at some point, along with depth across the board.

For the rest of the draft, it would be wise to keep an eye up front.

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