Laken Tomlinson drew the ire of many analysts after his first game. He was the lowest graded player on the Lions according to Pro Football Focus. Many thought his performance was evidence that he is not ready for the big time yet. I even talk about benching him in the latest PODcast. However, shortly after recording that podcast, I re-watched the game focusing on Tomlinson's play. And I have to say, he did much better than I remembered.
Let's start with the bad. Tomlinson is an overall solid pass protector, but in his first NFL game, we saw his protection skills slip up a few times against the Chargers:
Here we see Tomlinson get a little lazy with his handwork. Thinking he's got the defender wrapped up, he gets complacent. Quickly, the defender dips beneath the block and slips by Tomlinson forcing an errant pass from Matthew Stafford.
Still, this example aside, Tomlinson's pass protection was adequate at worst. Then there was this play:
Laken has been trashed for this play that resulted in Stafford's second interception of the day. San Diego is running a fairly simple stunt, and there's no one there to pick up the twisting defensive end. That man is Tomlinson's assignment, there's little doubt about that. But this play was not his fault. Because the Chargers are sneaky, dirty cheaters.
When stunting, it's very common for the inside defender to sacrifice himself on the play to open up a hole for the defensive end to rush the passer through. One way a defensive tackle does this is to grab a hold of the interior linemen and yank him out of the way. This is exactly what happens to Tomlinson. Don't see it? Take a closer look:
Notice how the defensive tackle gets both of his hands on Laken's shoulders and yanks Tomlinson towards himself, opening up a perfect path for the defensive tackle. This is defensive holding, but it is extremely hard to catch.
In the run game, Tomlinson struggled as I noted he did in the preseason. He has trouble diagnosing which defenders to take out of the play, specifically at the second level. But, still, there were signs that Tomlinson could be a beast in setting up the run game as well:
Look how far Tomlinson rides the defender completely out of the play. He opens up a huge hole for Ameer Abdullah, and if Brandon Pettigrew had picked up the only unmanned defender (No. 56), this play would have gone for a huge gain.
Overall, it's clear the Lions' first round draft pick still has a lot to learn in the NFL. But there's really no reason to completely bury him. His game was not as bad as it seemed, and there were plenty of positives from his performance as well, which is exactly how Tomlinson viewed his own play.