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Detroit Lions offensive line upgrades make everything click

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Bob Quinn’s clearest point of interest since becoming GM has been improving the offensive line, and this year should see it all come together.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Indianapolis Colts Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions haven’t had their offensive line as a strength in many years and seemingly every season there is talk of a player expected to take a step forward or some free agent acquisition expected to put the group in some category of adequate. The 2017 squad is no different as the Lions acquired two starting offensive linemen and had high hopes for two of their 2016 draft picks. An injury to starting left tackle Taylor Decker put things back into flux and now there is more uncertainty than ever. Even with that injury, however, this Detroit Lions offensive line should be better than their abysmal 2016 performance.

2016 Training Camp squad:

OT: Riley Reiff, Taylor Decker, Michael Ola, Cornelius Lucas, Corey Robinson, Luke Marquardt, Chase Farris

IOL: Laken Tomlinson, Larry Warford, Geoff Schwartz, Joe Dahl, Travis Swanson, Graham Glasgow, Gabe Ikard

Others: Brandon Thomas, Matt Rotheram

The fourth offensive tackle taken in 2016 was expected to try his hand on the right side of the line at first but instead took every snap at left tackle and never looked back. Taylor Decker played well as a rookie left tackle, a feat that is tough to overstate. Outside of Decker, the only real bright spot was Travis Swanson. Prior to the season, there was some (laughable) talk of Swanson as a top five center in the NFL. During the 2017 season, however, Swanson played just like that, turning into one of the most pleasant surprises of the year. Injuries and poor play among the rest of the linemen were part of what forced the Lions to make drastic offensive changes just to survive, but the team chose to allow both starters on the right side of the line to depart in free agency.

2017 Pre-Training Camp Squad:

Returning: Taylor Decker, Cornelius Lucas, Corey Robinson, Laken Tomlinson, Joe Dahl, Travis Swanson, Graham Glasgow, Brandon Thomas, Matt Rotheram

New: T.J. Lang, Rick Wagner, Tony Hills, Cyrus Kouandjio, Greg Robinson, Storm Norton, Leo Koloamatangi

With Decker down for the count for at least the first half of the season, Bob Quinn brought in a couple of highly drafted tackles in Greg Robinson and Cyrus Kouandjio. Kouandjio played better in 2016, but Robinson comes in with the advantage in athleticism, scheme and invested resources. Center is likely locked down with Swanson returning, while both T.J. Lang and Rick Wagner were signed to start on the line. The left guard spot is also in a bit of flux with no clear advantage to 2016 third-round pick Graham Glasgow or former first-round pick Laken Tomlinson. It’s uncertain enough that former practice squad player Brandon Thomas, who the team traded for in 2016, as well as undrafted center Leo Koloamatangi and 2016 late rounder Joe Dahl could also fight for that starting job in camp and preseason.

The team brought in veteran journeyman Tony Hills, but his chances to make the roster over Kouandjio or Robinson are incredibly slim. The same is true of athletic (and superbly named) Storm Norton, whose best shot may be practice squad. 2016 practice squadder Matt Rotheram is the forgotten man on that line, but I’d be surprised if that changes much. The biggest sleeper in this entire group may be former Hawaii center Leo Koloamatangi. Big and powerful, he came in as an undrafted free agent and took over the second team reps through both OTAs and minicamp. If he can show some versatility along the interior, he has a shot to make the final roster.

Guesswork final 53:

OT: Greg Robinson, Rick Wagner, Cyrus Kouandjio, Corey Robinson

IOL: T.J. Lang, Graham Glasgow, Travis Swanson, Joe Dahl, Laken Tomlinson, Brandon Thomas

PUP: Taylor Decker

Practice Squad: Storm Norton, Leo Koloamatangi

The Lions normally only keep 9 OL, but I think they go a little heavier this year with durability concerns for both Travis Swanson and T.J. Lang. Initially I had thought about keeping Koloamatangi to back up Swanson, and I still think that’s fairly likely, but after the team traded for Brandon Thomas last season I think they’re a bit higher on what he can bring being a bit more versatile. The rest of the interior OL aren’t all that controversial. At tackle I went with three free agents and the returning Corey Robinson, at least until we know how badly his injuries are expected to hold him back. For the record, I feel it’s going to be Greg Robinson starting at left tackle and Glasgow at left guard, but neither of those positions are secured enough to make a confident prediction at this point.

Did the unit improve?

The Detroit Lions improved both starting spots on the right side well enough that even the loss of Taylor Decker leaves this unit as improved. While the focus was almost exclusively on improving the pass protection, the Lions run blocking in 2016 was so horrible it’s hard to imagine a situation where it’s that bad again. The team hasn’t had a rushing offense outside of the bottom five since 2013. 2013 also marks the only season in Matthew Stafford’s career where the team had a rushing attack outside the bottom 10. The Lions haven’t had a rushing attack in the top half of the year in more than 15 years. That probably won’t change in 2017, but it’s likely they finish better in 2017 than they did in 2016 with their OL improvements.

Poll

Did the Detroit Lions improve their offensive line?

This poll is closed

  • 50%
    This could be a top 10 unit if they stay healthy!
    (468 votes)
  • 37%
    It’s better than 2016, but that’s a pretty low bar.
    (348 votes)
  • 9%
    Decker down means the FA signings are a wash.
    (88 votes)
  • 0%
    Warford and Reiff were too much to replace in one season.
    (7 votes)
  • 1%
    Another year in the bottom 5.
    (13 votes)
924 votes total Vote Now