It has been an interesting off-season for the Lions fans. We’ve watched a Lions GOAT in Calvin Johnson walk out the door, and watched the rest of the veteran contingent that came together to form the dominant 2014 defense; Jones, Tulloch (soon allegedly), Ihedigbo, and Mathis, be shown the door. The Lions have added players to fill those voids, but they haven’t made moves to make them a top tier Madden selection by any means. I like this off-season as a whole, because I think that the Lions are a better team than they were going in to 2015. There are some sneaky moves that will make the Lions legitimate contenders for the NFC North crown this year. The first article in this series takes a look at the Lions offensive line additions.
How Much Deeper is the Lions Offensive Line in 2016?
Last year, the Lions offensive line was doomed. Only two of the positions on the line had any competition in the preseason, and the players who were inked in as starters were frankly not at the level where that should be the case. This year we do not know who will be the starter at any position along the line. It is LIKELY that Riley Reiff is the left tackle, but a solid training camp and pre-season by Taylor Decker would change that. It is LIKELY that Taylor Decker will start at right tackle if he is unable to supplant Reiff on the left side, but if his camp is poor, and Michael Ola or Geoff Schwartz have a good camp, his career could start on the bench. The starting guards are LIKELY to be Laken Tomlinson and Larry Warford, but if Reiff loses the left tackle job, and Ola has a great camp on the right side, we could see Rieff slide inside to the left guard spot. Geoff Schwartz was a more highly ranked player by PFF than either Tomlinson or Warford in 2015 and could easily supplant either of them if they have a bad off-season. Travis Swanson is not very good at snapping the ball, and if that issue persists in the preseason, Graham Glasgow is the replacement player on the roster. That would also add Swanson to the list of players who might find themselves starting at guard as he showed himself to be a capable player in 2014 at both the left and right guard spots filling in when injuries put Rob Sims and Larry Warford on the sideline. We have no idea right now what we will see in week one, the Lions offensive line could be as follows:
LT: Riley Reiff, LG: Laken Tomlinson, C: Travis Swanson, RG Larry Warford, RT Taylor Decker
But, with the right combination of injuries and unexpectedly good camp performances is could also look like this:
LT: Taylor Decker, LG: Riley Reiff, C: Graham Glasgow, RG: Geoff Schwartz, RT: Michael Ola
That could be a solid line, assuming that Glasgow outperforming Swanson were the reason for the swap. Reiff was a highly ranked run blocker by PFF in 2015, as he always has been, but ranked poorly as a pass blocker, a move inside would limit his exposure to the speed rushers that give him fits. Ola proved himself to be a capable, if not ideal right tackle in the second half of last season, making him a player that deserves to be watched going in to training camp. Do I think it likely that both Tomlinson and Warford end up on the bench for the Lions in week one? No I do not, that’s madness, but the fact that the Lions could potentially field a reasonable starting offensive line without their starters at RG, LG and C from 2015 on the field, and their LT moved to LG, is a testament to the work of Bob Quinn this off-season. Pre-season injuries and busted draft picks hit every team, and the Lions offensive line are certainly better prepared than they have ever been before.
Not every position on the Lions roster has this level of competition or potential upheaval going in to the season, but there are many spots on the roster that may wind up looking vastly different from our assumed “same as it ever was” Lions depth chart. I hope you will enjoy reading these “What if” articles as much as I enjoy writing them.
You can find me @A5hcrack on Twitter, and over on /r/detroitlions. Remember to catch the latest episode of the Podcast, in which Chris talks about how great I am. I really wouldn’t want you to miss that. 😉