Left Tackle: The Detroit Lions’ Battle For The Blind Side

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It Has Been A Very Long Time Since The Detroit Lions Had Questions About Their Left Tackle.

The Lions have had three consecutive first round picks man the left tackle spot. During that time, the Lions have started countless quarterbacks. They have had a new featured running back every second season. Other than Calvin Johnson there hasn’t been consistency in their receiving corps.

The Lions have known going into training camp who was going to man the blind side since 2001. Matt Millen’s first ever draft pick and arguably his best, Jeff Backus, opened training camp as the Detroit Lions left tackle. He started 188 consecutive games there before missing the Lions week 14 game in 2012. It was the only game Backus ever missed for the Lions. He retired following the season with 191 career games played protecting Lions quarterbacks.

The Lions had selected his replacement in the first round of the 2012 draft, Riley Reiff was a very similar player to Backus. After spending Backus’ final season on the bench, Reiff held the spot for three seasons. He also missed only a single game during his reign as the Lions left tackle. In 2016 he was moved over to the right side. If he had any resentment toward the team for the move he took it out only on his opponents. Reiff was a consummate teammate, a company man.

The Lions had selected Reiff’s replacement at left tackle in the first round of the 2016 draft. Taylor Decker immediately stepped in and took hold of the position. He wrestled with the pace of play in the preseason, but before his first live fire action in week one, he had proven he was in the right place.

But Taylor Decker has not been an iron man for the Lions as his predecessors were. According to the report, Taylor Decker had surgery for a torn labrum in his shoulder on June 5th. His injury will take 4-6 months to heal after surgery. That puts his return sometime between week five and week 13. For the first time in over a decade, the Lions do not know who will be Matthew Stafford‘s back.

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The Replacements

Bob Quinn did not go silently into the night and hope for the best. He began his work by trading a sixth round pick in the 2018 draft for Greg Robinson. Robinson was the Rams first round pick, number two overall, in 2014. He has consistently disappointed during his time in the NFL. In May the Rams declined the fifth year option on his rookie contract, and by the first week of June they had moved on from him as one of their starting offensive linemen. Former NFL lineman Geoff Schwartz has been bullish in his belief that Robinson is a great fit for the Detroit Lions.

In an ideal world, Robinson finally realizes his full potential and gives the Lions a legitimate starting left tackle. Sunday in Indianapolis, Robinson had a good game. On most plays, he handled his assignment with ease. When he did struggle it was in ways that did not hurt the team. The Colts speed rushers were able to occasionally find their way around Robinson, but he forced them deep enough that Jake Ruddock was able to simply step up in to the pocket.

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What About Cyrus?

In addition to Robinson, Bob Quinn brought in 2014 Bills second round pick Cyrus Kouandjio. Kouandjio, like Robinson, never quite lived up to that draft status. In 2016 he filled in admirably for the Bills injured left tackle Cordy Glenn for five games and his prospects were looking up. He was expected to challenge for the starting right tackle role or at worst fill the primary back up role for both tackle spots in Buffalo in 2017.

Kouandjio injured his hip in an accident at home and was unavailable for the first offseason of rookie head coach Sean McDermott. Then The 6’7″ 322lb Kouandjio reportedly hopped an electric fence and yelled at the police to shoot him. Having just drafted a tackle in the second round of the 2017 draft, the Bills waived Kouandjio almost shortly after. The NFL is a place where teams are willing to overlook almost anything if they think a player can help them win. If Robinson can not handle the role, Kouandjio is a better stand in than the Detroit Lions have historically had at the tackle spot. He ranked as PFF’s number 29 offensive tackle in 2016 and has always graded well when he played. Koandjio just turned 24 despite his three seasons of experience.

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Here is Where We Stand

If Robinson can not handle the role Koandjio is a better stand in than the Detroit Lions have historically had at the tackle spot. He ranked as PFF’s number 29 offensive tackle in 2016 and has always graded well when he played. Both players have three years experience and are just 24 years old. Koandjio did not play against the Colts. It will be interesting to see if there is still a job up for grabs when he returns. Availability is the most important ability in the NFL. Storm Norton played, but he looked like an undrafted rookie. As of right now, he does not factor into the left tackle competition.

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About the Author

Ash Thompson
Ash Thompson is a fanatical football fan, and less fanatical hockey fan despite his Canadian heritage. He is sorry aboot that. His spirit animal is a beaver with a shark's head. He enjoys maple syrup and tacos, but never at the same time.