Lions eager to shore up line, protect Stafford
ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — The Detroit Lions have several holes to fill on their offensive line, including both tackles. At least they had a familiar face working with the unit Wednesday.
Former left tackle Jeff Backus, who retired during the offseason after a 12-year career here, spent the organized team activities period watching and working with the linemen, especially those who are playing his former position.
“Jeff had a long career and it wasn’t just because he was physically talented,” coach Jim Schwartz said. “He’s very interested in the guys, particularly the young tackles, and he just wants to impart his knowledge to those guys.”
The Lions also lost right tackle Gosder Cherilus in free agency. Second-year tackle Riley Reiff, the Lions’ first-round selection in the 2011 draft, made eight starts last year and could be Backus’ successor on quarterback Matthew Stafford’s blind side.
Rob Sims, who started all 16 games last season, figures to return to the left guard spot alongside center Dominic Raiola, who enters his 13th season and became the dean of the Lions after the retirements of Backus and placekicker Jason Hanson. Like Sims, Raiola started every game of last year’s 4-12 campaign.
Those two and Reiff took snaps with Detroit’s first-team offense Wednesday along with guard Rodney Austin and tackle Corey Hilliard, who was injured all last season. Schwartz was quick to point out, however, that the Lions are a long way from deciding who will be the starting unit when the regular season begins Sept. 8 against Minnesota.
“Until we get really competitive, until we put shoulder pads on; we really won’t know where those guys are,” he said.
Schwartz said having Raiola back should help, even if he has to get used to playing with new teammates up front.
“He’s used to playing with a lot of different guys but it’s all the same scheme,” he said.
The Lions used their third-round selection to take Kentucky guard Larry Warford and had a handful of players on the field Wednesday who are familiar with the team’s scheme but lack experience.
The Lions are two years removed from a playoff berth and will need the line to help spring free-agent running back Reggie Bush. He could thrive in coordinator Scott Linehan’s offense, which has made use of speedy backs who can catch the ball out of the backfield in the past.
Stafford and All-Pro receiver Calvin Johnson connected on 122 receptions for an NFL-record 1,964 yards last season and Nate Burleson, a reliable target in 2011, is back after missing the last 10 games of last season with an injury.
Throw in effective tight ends Tony Scheffler and Brandon Pettigrew and Detroit has plenty of offensive weapons - if the line gives Stafford enough time to get the ball to them.
For now, Schwartz doesn’t seem too concerned.
“Right now, it’s too hard to tell,” he said.
Notes: Running back Mikel Leshoure didn’t participate in most of Wednesday’s session due to a nagging hamstring injury. Schwartz said he didn’t believe it was serious.