On the radar: Lions' O-line

A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.

The Detroit Lions should do a much better job protecting Matthew Stafford in 2010. In fact, the offensive line overall should be improved. Why? The weakest position on Detroit’s offensive line was left guard.

But, somewhat under the radar, the Lions acquired Rob Sims to man that spot. Sims didn’t fit what the new coaching staff was looking for in Seattle, but he is a big body who is a massive upgrade at the weakest spot on the Detroit line. Adding Sims should pay big dividends.

Also, right tackle Gosder Cherilus improved throughout the 2009 season. He has a first-round pedigree and more than enough ability to flourish on the right side. I expect his ascension to continue.

Jeff Backus takes a lot of unwarranted criticism as Detroit’s left tackle, but in reality, he is a middle-of-the-road option at this critical position and maybe even better. With Sims, Cherilus and Backus along with center Dominic Raiola and vastly underrated right guard Stephen Peterman, the Lions’ starting line is more than adequate. There is also better depth up front than in recent memory. The evolving skill players will help the cause as well.

In terms of weaponry and peripheral pass blockers, the Lions have a lot more options than a year ago. If healthy, Brandon Pettigrew could be a great asset as a blocker in addition to his abilities as an intermediate receiver. He struggled in this capacity as a rookie, but was renowned for it at the college level. Expect improvement.

A question I do have, though, concerns Jahvid Best. The 5-foot-10, 199-pound rookie could have a hard time matching up with pass-rushers. But, on the other hand, having a guy like Best in the game could slow the rush because of his threat on draw and screen plays. Also, in Stafford’s second season, a natural progression would be for him to improve the internal clock in his head and get the ball out quicker.

Contrary to popular belief, the Lions were not terrible in pass protection in 2009. The Lions were sacked 43 times, but in many cases, Detroit was forced to throw when coming from behind while the pass-rushers played pass the entire way. But in 2010, the Lions will be better.