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Next Man Up: Beau-lstering depth along the offensive line

After a season of worrisome play at guard and the Lions’ best guard retiring, fans should be worried... or should they?

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Brigham Young Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions are in a peculiar position at offensive guard. They struggled to keep quarterback Matthew Stafford upright when starting right guard T.J. Lang was injured in 2018. Now, Lang has retired and the Lions failed to address the position in the draft. Thus, it’s only logical to assume they got worse at the position.

Looking at the situation through a different lens may provide a different perspective. 2018 first-round pick Frank Ragnow, who has the versatility to play any of the three interior offensive lineman positions, should take a significant step forward as he enters his second season, much as fellow Lion Graham Glasgow did following his rookie year.

Speaking of Glasgow, who also has experience splitting time between center and guard, his play at guard took a massive step forward in 2017 prior to taking over for ex-Lion (and recently retired) Travis Swanson at center. He and Ragnow will presumably take over center and one of the guard positions, and not necessarily in the same arrangement as last year—a peek into Day 1 of OTAs showed that Darrell Bevell is doing his due diligence in figuring out who’s best suited at what position along the offensive line.

The other starting guard spot will presumably be occupied by free agent signee Oday Aboushi, who comes from Seattle and has experience playing under Bevell. Should the Lions—knock on wood—face injury troubles again at guard in 2019, who will they count on to step up?

Next Man Up: Kenny Wiggins / Beau Benzschawel

A quick glance at these names brings up some traumatic memories for the Lions. It seemed like any time Wiggins was on the field in 2018, a run play was getting blown up in the backfield. That’s where big Beau comes in.

Beau is an absolute mauler in the run game who had no business being available in the UDFA period, and the Lions were lucky to scoop him up. He graded out as the best draft-eligible interior lineman in run blocking in 2018, ahead of some notable names like first and third rounders Garrett Bradbury and Michael Deiter, respectively. He’s not perfect, of course. After all, there’s a reason 32 teams passed on him through seven rounds.

The hope is that Benzschawel can develop into a more complete lineman who may one day be a starter along the Lions offensive line. It would be foolish, however, to count on either Kenny Wiggins or Beau to step in and hold their own every snap should a starting guard go down.

Having the combination of both, however, is a different story. Wiggins is serviceable, if nothing else, in a pass-blocking capacity at guard, just as much as Benzschawel is in run-blocking situations. The Lions don’t have much going on in terms of depth at tackle, and Wiggins has an ability to play all five positions on the line. The combination of those two factors should be enough to keep Wiggins on the roster even if he gets outplayed by Benzschawel in training camp.

Having both available to backup or even rotate in at guard would make for a (and I can’t stress this enough) big step up from relying solely on one of them, as fans learned from watching Wiggins in a starting role last season.

Grade: B

Having only one of the two available to backup at guard, as was the case last season, would likely warrant a C-/D+ at best. Having both available, however, enables the Lions to use fresh legs in situational roles, and enables the Lions to make the most of Benzschawel while he develops, too.

Of course, it would be ideal to have one single more complete guard as a reserve, but if that were the case then such a player probably wouldn’t be backing up. The Lions are in a much more bearable situation should the injury bug rear its head at guard again this year, and fans can sleep easy knowing the pieces are in place at guard to keep the offense moving and grooving in 2019 no matter what happens.