“It’s very important for all those guys to be able to play multiple positions” said Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia when asked about the offensive line in a post practice press conference Wednesday.
Bringing in offensive linemen that can play multiple positions has been a theme of the Lions roster building strategy so far in the era of general manager Bob Quinn . The team spent their first-round pick on Arkansas’ Frank Ragnow, who played center in college but has taken over the left guard role in Detroit this offseason. They spent a fifth-round pick on Oregon’s Tyrell Crosby, who while listed as a tackle also has the ability to play guard.
The philosophy spread beyond the draft as well, with the addition of Wesley Johnson in free agency and the increased role of 2017 practice squad member Leo Koloamatangi this offseason. Both are versatile interior offensive linemen who have a legitimate shot to make the roster this season.
The focus on versatility was highlighted when starting center Graham Glasgow went down with an injury during practice Tuesday. Glasgow himself is another offensive lineman who has shown his ability to play many roles. He was drafted by Quinn as a center out of Michigan, shifted to guard for most of his first two seasons in Detroit and now has made a return to center. When he temporarily left the lineup, Detroit was able to confidently slide Ragnow to center.
“From my perspective as a rookie I have to be ready to play any position, cause I’m trying to earn my keep around here,” Ragnow said after practice Wednesday “I’m preparing to play wherever they want me to step up.”
Glasgow returned to practice on Wednesday but lined up back at guard with Ragnow sliding into the role at center. The two switched back to their original positions during the team walk through on Thursday, but with Glasgow unlikely to feature in Friday night’s preseason game against the New York Giants it is possible that Ragnow gets the nod at center.
Detroit’s ability to mix and match players into different roles and test different combinations of players over the coming weeks should play to their advantage. The more possible offensive line combinations available to them, the more likely they are to have one that truly works and fixes the issues the unit has had for years. The more positions that each player on the roster can fill in, the less likely the team is to get hindered by a midseason injury.
The Lions have put a heavy focus on versatile offensive lineman this offseason and the Glasgow injury scare shows exactly why.
Or as Ragnow said himself, “Versatility is very important.”