Championship teams are built in the trenches. On defense, the goal is to pressure the quarterback. Offensively, the goal is to open running lanes and keep the quarterback’s jersey clean.
General manager Bob Quinn saw this as a major need last offseason. He shored up the right side of the line with guard T.J. Lang and tackle Rick Wagner. With all signs pointing to the Lions moving on from center, Travis Swanson, the interior offensive line is likely to be a position Quinn focuses on in the draft or free agency.
coaching and outlook
There is a lot of optimism surrounding the offensive line coach heading into this coming season. Jeff Davidson is coming in from Denver as the new offensive line coach for the Lions. He will take over a group that allowed 47 sacks in 2017 and finished last in rushing.
Davidson also has a Patriots connection. He is one of the best in the league at getting the most out of the offensive line. Davidson has spent 13 seasons as either an offensive coordinator or the offensive line coach. In those 13 seasons, his teams averaged the 10th most yards per carry in the league. In six of these seasons, Davidson’s offense finished in the top three in rushing.
Another stat Lions fans have heard constantly is how they have struggled to have a back reach 100 yards in a single game. Let us put this stat into perspective. Davidson had 67 players run for 100 yards in those aforementioned 13 seasons. During these same seasons, Detroit only produced 13 players with 100 yards in a game.
The time is now for the Lions to make a real run at a championship. Matthew Stafford is in his prime. Time will tell how many years he has left, but as we have seen recently in Seattle, windows for championships close fast.
In Stafford’s first nine seasons, he has only had seven 100-yard rushers. Compare that to Blake Bortles in Jacksonville, who had the benefit of seven in 2017 alone. Jared Goff was fortunate enough to have seven this past season as well. Think about what Stafford could do with the offensive balance Bortles and Goff experienced this past season.
ol on the roster
Taylor Decker headlines this group, as he appears to be a franchise left tackle. Surgery forced him to miss more than the first half of the season. This ultimately hindered Detroit’s ability to establish chemistry across the line.
The Lions tried desperately to fill the void left by this injury. Attempts included Brian Mihalik, Greg Robinson and Corey Robinson. Mihalik is young and raw with exceptional arm length. He gained a lot of experience, but being on a roster with Decker and RickWagner will make it hard for him to supplant one of the bookends. Wagner came over from Baltimore last season, signing a five-year, $47.5 million contract.
According to a ranking system created by Duke Manyweather, an NFL1000 offensive line scout, Wagner finished as the 15th best right tackle with an overall grade of 74/100. He rated higher in run blocking than pass protection.
After missing three games, he was able to return in Week 17 against the Packers. Wagner’s return helped the Lions complete the season sweep over Green Bay.
Manyweather rated Decker as the ninth best left tackle in 2017. This rating is impressive considering missed time due to previously mentioned injuries.
Guards and centers
Graham Glasgow and T.J. Lang are the leading returners to this group. They both produced well for the Lions, and Glasgow will be sliding to center, replacing Travis Swanson.
This permanent position change should be continuity to the interior offensive line. It also brings about a big question: Who will be the starting left guard?
Competition is healthy for a position group, especially one regarded as the worst in the league. Expect current Lions, Joe Dahl and Emmett Cleary to compete for the starting left guard spot.
Therefore, it is highly likely to see an interior lineman added during free agency and or the draft. NFL1000 ratings placed Lang at 14th and Glasgow at 24th among all guards in the NFL.
what to expect
There is a lot to be excited about for Lions fans with the offensive line. Decker, Lang, Glasgow and Wagner all rank in the top 25 at their respective positions. With Coach Davidson bringing his expertise to a group of highly rated individuals, he ultimately faces two challenges. The first is to find a left guard. The second, and possibly the tallest task, is getting this unit to gel and build on chemistry to get their individual play to translate to a cohesive unit. The Lions could look to add someone in free agency like Andrew Norwell from the Panthers or a Jonathan Cooper from Dallas.
As for the draft, look for the Lions to add some depth or grab a starter (if no significant moves are made in free agency). Guard Quenton Nelson out of Notre Dame is a top 10 pick, so the Lions will most likely not have a shot at him.
However, the Lions could take Billy Price (Ohio State), Isaiah Wynn (Georgia), Braden Smith (Auburn) or a sleeper late-round pick such as Sean Welsh (Iowa). The success of the 2018 Detroit Lions will come down to how quickly Matt Patricia and Davidson can get this group to come together and work as a unit.
As much as Lions fans are hoping for a quick turnaround, Matthew Stafford must share the enthusiasm and optimism.
Featured image by Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press
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