There has been a lot of talk about the Lions drafting an offensive tackle during the upcoming 2011 NFL draft. Sometimes we forget that the Lions already drafted an offensive tackle in the 2010 draft. That was Jason Fox who was drafted in the fourth round, pick 128 overall.
Part of the reason for Fox's lack of visibility is that he did not play very much in the 2010 season. While it is understandable that fans might not feel Fox is an answer for the future based on that lack of playing time, that may not be a reasonable conclusion to make.
When the Lions drafted Fox he was recovering from a knee injury that had caused him to miss the final two starts of his senior season at Miami (FL). This injury also caused the Lions to hold Fox out of the rookie camp drills which delayed his development from the very beginning of his pro career. This injury continued to bother Fox into the season.
On October 29, 2010 Fox indicated to the Detroit News that his surgically repaired right knee was feeling the best it had all year following the bye week. Fox Said...
"To be honest with you, I think I'm real close," he said about playing in a game. "You just kind of have to wait and see. If that day comes, I'll be ready."
Also on October 29, 2010 Jim Schwartz commented on Fox by saying...
"He's doing well," Schwartz said. "He missed a lot of time as far as his ability to weight train last year coming back from his knee. But he's on a good program now. He's gained a little bit of weight and he's gained a lot of strength. He's benefiting from going out there every day and playing against guys like Kyle Vanden Bosch and Suh and those guys."
This comment backs up the general consensus that Fox needed to gain strength in order to perform at an NFL level. This statement also verified that Fox will remain a work in progress because it will probably take Fox at least one more season in an NFL weight program to develop sufficient strength for the position.
One of the most important points made by Schwartz is that Fox has to practice every day against a high quality defensive line. Ndamakong Suh, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Cliff Avril, etc. will play an instrumental part in helping Fox learn to become a high caliber offensive tackle. If Fox can learn to handle the talent and variety of styles on the Lions defensive line then he is likely to be able to handle most opponents.
The Lions are also adding some extra value in Jason Fox by giving him some practice reps at guard. While Fox has not played guard before he is willing to learn. Fox said...
"This is the first time I've ever played (guard) ... Honestly, they just asked me one day if I wanted to get some reps at guard and I say 'Yeah, absolutely, what ever it takes.' No matter if it's tackle or guard I want to be able to help and contribute to this team. I'm still learning (guard) but like I said, whatever they want me to play is what I'll do."
You have to love Fox's willingness to play multiple positions in order to raise his value to the team. Jim Schwartz has often commented on how important it is to get versatile players in order to have the most effective possible roster. If Fox can back up at both tackle and guard it allows the Lions to carry an additional development player or specialist on the roster.
It took a while for Fox to be part of the active roster. He did not dress for the first twelve games of the 2010 season. But he was dressed for the final four games, all Lion victories. He did not see action on the field, outside of special teams, until the final game of the season.
When Corey Hilliard was injured with 12:40 remaining in the third quarter of the game against the Vikings, Fox was called upon to play. During the nearly two quarters of playing time, Fox did not allow a sack. However, the Lions struggled to run over the right side of the line while Fox was in the game. They gained only eight yards on five runs to the right side. To be fair, that could indicate problems with other players on the right side of the offensive line as well. The Vikings also have a pretty good defensive line against the run.
So what does this all mean? We can certainly assume that Fox is in the plans for the Lions offensive line going into the future. If he continues to develop his play skills at both tackle and guard he will become a valuable player based on versatility. I feel that we can expect Fox to be a flexible backup option for many years to come as a floor for his development.
The real question that most of us want to know is what the ceiling is for Fox. He has the ability to become a starting tackle, or possibly even a starting guard. But both of those positions will require him to continue adding to his strength. He is definitely capable of becoming a starting right tackle, possibly within the next season. If Gosder Cherilus struggles with his knee injury and something keeps Corey Hilliard from playing we may be looking at that happening.
It was generally thought that Fox's ceiling is at right tackle by many of the "experts" prior to the 2010 draft. While that might prove to be the case, we cannot discount the idea that he can play left tackle as well. The knocks on Fox were all about strength and physical play. Those are things that can easily be trained. Few of the experts criticize Fox's mobility or agility. Over time he may very well develop the ability to play left tackle as well, but that probably won't happen during the 2011 season.
The bottom line on Fox is that we have not seen enough to know what he is capable of doing. I don't think that is a surprise to anybody. We can expect to see a lot more of Fox in the 2011 season, whenever that might happen to be. If Fox performs well in 2011 we can expect him to develop into a starter for at least one of the tackle spots, or maybe even guard. So the waiting game is on, for the season to start, and for Fox.