What Looked Like An Improvement From 2016 Turned Into A Bumpy Road For 2017.
Quarterback Matt Stafford has been asked to do it all during his time in Detroit. He had wide receiver Calvin Johnson as his only solid target for five seasons, only one true season with solid running backs, an inconsistent defense, and an offensive line that can’t block.
While the defense has improved, it still needs some help along the trenches. The wide receivers are perfect for Stafford, and the running game took a huge step back. Part of the reason? The other struggling piece: the offensive line.
During the 2016 offseason, GM Bob Quinn wanted to make a change for 2017, and that was up front on the offensive line. He let starting right tackle Riley Reiff and guard Larry Warford go, and replaced them with upgrades of offensive tackle Rick Wagner and guard T.J. Lang. The belief was that Stafford and company finally had a solid offensive line to help the offense get going.
That wasn’t the case for 2017.
The second-year player left tackle Taylor Decker would suffer a torn labrum in June, and wouldn’t return until November. Detroit had a revolving door along the offensive line all season long. Let’s take a look back at what all went down in 2017, and what could change in 2018.
Rick Wagner And T.J. Lang Disappointed In Debut
The first big addition to the offensive linemen of 2017 was Rick Wagner. He signed a five year deal for $47.5 million and he didn’t play like it in 2017. He missed three games with an ankle injury and when he did play, at times he didn’t look like a starting right tackle in the NFL. He allowed a career-high six sacks and had three penalties on him all season long. Wagner will need to rebound in 2018 to prove his worth.
The other big addition for the offensive linemen was T.J. Lang. The former Green Bay Packer would decide to come back home and play for the Lions, agreeing to a three year deal for $28.5 million. Lang would suffer a back injury, battling a concussion, and a foot injury, altogether costing him to miss three games in 2017.
Lang did well, but his battle with many injuries had fans worried about his longevity with the team. Lang finished the season with an offensive linemen high, seven penalties, but only allowing one sack.
Graham Glasgow Showed Versatility And Longevity In 2017
Nobody knows where offensive lineman Graham Glasgow will play in 2018, but he has experience at guard and center. With former center Travis Swanson not re-signing with the team, the option is open for Glasgow. Glasgow was seen as the “weak piece” of the newly built wall of the offensive line. Of all of the pieces on that wall, Glasow was the only one to play in all 16 games.
Glasgow showed improvement in his game, getting two fewer penalties from 2016, finishing with four in 2017, and allowing three sacks. Glasgow showed that he can be versatile with his play, as he started some games at center and left guard. He also showed that he can stay healthy, something the other players could learn more about.
Taylor Decker Will Have A Better 2018
While it wasn’t the 2017 Decker was looking to have, Decker still showed why he was a first-round pick. He finished with four sacks allowed and three penalties on the team.
Decker will hopefully be able to have a full healthy offseason where he is able to do everything and be around the building and teammates for a full year. Decker will rebound in 2018 and he will continue to be a solid foundation on the offensive line.
Travis Swanson And Greg Robinson Were Failed Projects
Nobody had more of a roller coaster of a contract than center Travis Swanson. He came in as a backup to Dominic Raiola and was seen as his replacement. Swanson started off on the wrong foot as the starter, having a horrible 2015. His 2016 season seemed to be like night and day for the offensive lineman. He seemed to be worth a new contract after the 2017 season.
That would slowly die as 2017 was another down year for Swanson. While he only allowed one sack and had three penalties, he missed five games due to a knee injury and a concussion. Swanson has had a poor track record with concussions, and the front office didn’t want to have that burden on them anymore. While Swanson leaves a hole at the center position, Glasgow can move to center, and with the Lions signing former LA Chargers starting guard Kenny Wiggins, it looks like it won’t be a hole that is empty for long.
The other project the Lions had was trading for the former second overall pick, left tackle Greg Robinson. Robinson was seen as a better fit in Detroit, but a change of scenery wouldn’t do Robinson justice. He would start in six games before getting cut and he looked incomplete in Detroit, allowing five and a half sacks and getting two penalties.
Detroit would find a replacement for Robinson after he left, and the position would soon be held down when Decker returned in November.
Corey Robinson And Brian Mihalik Showed Depth Purpose For Offensive Linemen
One of the reasons why the Lions had to trade for Greg Robinson was because their backup tackle Corey Robinson started the season on the IR with a foot injury. The latter returned later in the season and started in five games. Robinson got to play at guard when the team needed some help and he did well at it.
Robinson finished the year with allowing three sacks and only three penalties. Robinson showed that he belonged on the team as a good depth offensive lineman and now with experience playing guard, it gives him more of a reason to be on the roster.
The replacement for Greg Robinson after he got cut? Tackle Brian Mihalik, formerly of the Steelers. Mihalik showed flashes of potential and in the two games he started, he did well, only getting one penalty and allowing two sacks. Mihalik will be another good depth addition for 2018.
Don’t Forget About These Other Four Offensive Linemen Who Played Last Season
The revolving door of offensive linemen kept on swinging in 2017. Guard Joe Dahl started three games while Lang and Swanson were hurt. He never got a flag called on him and only allowed two sacks. Dahl, like Mihalik, showed flashes of potential and could possibly compete to start at left guard in 2018.
Another former Green Bay Packer, Don Barclay was added to the team later in the season as injuries were piling up and Barclay started in one game, appeared in three total, and had three penalties called on him, but never allowed a sack. The Lions didn’t bring him back for 2018; they only saw him as a rental as they have better, younger talent on the team.
Another surprising name to start for the Lions in 2017 was tackle Emmett Cleary. Cleary played in seven games, but started in one and was average. Getting one flag called on him and allowing one sack, Cleary wasn’t the ideal candidate to start while Wagner was out, but the team didn’t have many choices at that time.
If you were to say in 2017 that guard Zac Kerin would start one game for the Detroit Lions, you would be considered a madman, but it happened. Kerin, like Cleary, wasn’t the main target to start, but the team didn’t have many options and getting only one penalty in your only game isn’t too bad.
The final offensive lineman to see playing time in 2017 was tackle Dan Skipper. Skipper didn’t allow a sack in the few minutes he played, and Detroit could use his height on the practice squad in 2018. Him returning would be a good thing as he could possibly move up to become a backup with more time on the practice squad.
Over the 16 games, the Lions had 10 different starting offensive line combinations. That isn’t something that should happen to a team during a season, but when the injury bug mainly attacks one position, that will happen. 2018 should be a better year on the line that can hopefully stay healthy as we may be able to see their potential as a unit.
They can only get better the more they play together, chemistry can form and they could become a good unit. They have the talent to be a top 10 line in the NFL, they just have to stay healthy and play their worth. What 2017 did show was that they do have some depth at the position, and that will certainly help the front office make some choices in the draft and the rest of the offseason.