O'HARA: Wiggins a contender for the starting job at right guard

Kenny Wiggins has begun Year 9 of his winding journey to gain a firm foothold on the slippery slope of an NFL career with a new experience.

Wiggins was one of the players chosen for the weekly media interviews during the Detroit Lions’ offseason workout program.

He’s done plenty of interviews in the past, but always at his locker. Wiggins joked about being behind the press room podium Tuesday at the Lions’ Allen Park headquarters.

“My first time up here?” he joked. “Nine years?

“So, take it easy on me, alright?”

Wiggins handled himself just fine, with a mix of humor and reflection on the events that have made him a contender for the starting job at right guard on the offensive line. He has faced situations far more daunting – many of which could have been career-ending – than the mostly light-hearted give and take with the media.

He laughed about the hard times, and he was serious about what continued to drive him to make it in the NFL.

“I’ve been through it all,” he said. “I’ve been cut 10 times. I’ve played in the UFL. Nothing surprises me. I think I’ve proven I can play in this league. It‘s just going out there and doing what I do normally, day in and day out.”

After his career at Fresno State he was on and off practice squads from 2011 to 2014 with the Ravens, 49ers twice and Chargers.

When he was between practice squads in 2011 he had a two-week stint – with pay for one week -- with the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the United Football League.

He made an active roster for the first time when the Chargers promoted him from the practice squad for the final game of 2014. He played one snap – on the field-goal protection unit in a 19-7 road loss to the Chiefs.

Wiggins may not have known it at the time, but that one play was the signal of a turning point – or perhaps more accurately a beginning point – for his rise in stature as a serviceable offensive lineman.

Over the last four years he has played 60 of 64 regular-season games with 35 starts. He started all 16 games for the Chargers at right guard in 2017.

After signing with the Lions as an unrestricted free agent last year, Wiggins played all 16 games with 10 starts at right guard in relief of T.J. Lang. Injuries limited Lang to only six games in what proved to be his last season in a stellar 10-year career.

The nature of their position -- working together without recognition from fans and media, makes offensive line one of the most tightly knit units on any team. Newcomers are accepted quickly, regardless of their stature.

Wiggins talked about his relationship with Joe Staley with the 49ers. Staley has made six Pro Bowls in 12 seasons since being drafted in the first round in 2007 out of Central Michigan.

Wiggins walked into a new environment with the Lions last year after three seasons with the Chargers.

“It’s kind of like being the new kid at school,” he said. “It’s kind of different. They’ve been great – great golf outings this spring, fishing trips and stuff. It’s going to be good, I think.”

Camaraderie off the field does not diminish competition for jobs, and there will be a battle at right guard.

“The NFL is the NFL for a reason,” Wiggins said. “There’s competition at every spot on every roster. I always go in being an undrafted guy, thinking they’re going to replace me because I’m an undrafted guy.

“I just have to prove myself and earn the coaches trust and make sure they can trust me being out there – my teammates can trust me being out there. That’s kind of how I’ve gone about my business my whole entire career. “

Wiggins has some stories to tell his Lions teammates about his humble beginnings, and they aren’t tall tales. One would be the lunch provided after practice in his two weeks with the Sacramento Mountain Lions. An office worker had a container of hot dogs – two to a bun.

“Guys were fighting over the mustard and ketchup packages,” he said. “This is not the NFL – two hot dogs in one bun.

“They don’t know the struggles. I just look back at that time – I knew I could play. I had to be in the right spot at the right time.”

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