The Detroit Lions open training camp on August 3 and with it, the 2015 season will commence. In a change from most seasons, the Lions are coming off a playoff berth and one of the best seasons in franchise history.
Can the Lions repeat that? Each day from now until training camp, we will look at one position group to prepare for the 2015 season.
Position: Offensive line
Position status: Revamped, but stable
Position thoughts: The Lions had to do something after their rough 2014 season with the offensive line. Only one starter, Rob Sims, played every game, the team allowed a career-high 45 sacks of Matthew Stafford, and the rushing offense was in the bottom 10 in the league.
So Detroit pushed to get much younger and did so on the interior, drafting Laken Tomlinson in the first round. It also had Travis Swanson take over for the departed Dominic Raiola. The Lions are counting on both players to hold off Manny Ramirez and become opening-day starters. Larry Warford is hoping to make improvements after a good first two seasons in the NFL, and Riley Reiff is a consistent, above-average left tackle.
Right tackle is the main concern. Lucas has the job now as LaAdrian Waddle is coming off knee surgery, and the timetable for his return is unclear. He should slide into the starting lineup when he does return. Waddle had a strong rookie campaign in 2013, but he couldn’t stay healthy in 2014. Getting him back to form is going to be key for the line’s success.
More than anything with this line, though, will be continuity. As long as the team can avoid the consistent injury issues from 2014, the line should be better than last year’s version. Depth is a major question -- beyond Ramirez and the Waddle/Lucas loser, there is no one with any significant playing time -- but the Lions have some young talent in the first five. Should they stay healthy, they could be Detroit’s offensive line for the next half-decade.
What the Lions need to see in camp: This starts with Tomlinson. He didn’t receive many first-team reps during spring workouts, and while that was noticeable, it won’t be a concern if Tomlinson ends up working with the first team early next month. The bigger issue would come if Ramirez is still playing first team left guard over Tomlinson a couple of weeks into the preseason. If that happens, then Detroit needs to start worrying about its first-round pick.
Health will be a big factor as the depth isn’t great so getting the top five through camp without injury is critical. Seeing Warford take another step toward being a potential Pro Bowl-caliber player could settle things on the inside and give Swanson an interior anchor to rely on.
It will be interesting to watch the reserves, as Michael Williams will push for the No. 4 tackle spot with Corey Robinson. He should win it if he continues to make the correct development. The interior is a little trickier, and none of the guys beyond the three starters and Ramirez have made much of a move. Detroit should hope at least one or two separate themselves for either a depth roster spot or the practice squad.
Who ends up on the roster: Tackles: Reiff, Lucas, Waddle, Williams. Guards: Tomlinson, Warford, Ramirez. Center: Swanson.