Gauging Lions' need for an offensive tackle

Conventional wisdom suggests the Detroit Lions' biggest positional needs this offseason are cornerback and outside linebacker. After the decision to part ways with veteran Kevin Smith, a few of you are adding tailback to that list. Mock drafts in which the Lions select an offensive tackle at No. 13 overall have been attributed to value, not need.

Are we sure about that?

We know that Lions left tackle Jeff Backus had a pretty decent year in 2010. (How else would he have been named to our prestigious All-NFC North team?) On the right side, the Lions saw significant progress from former No. 1 pick Gosder Cherilus. But an underplayed element of the Lions' short-term future on the offensive line -- and possibly beyond -- is the state of Cherilus' surgically repaired right knee.

Cherilus had microfracture surgery on the knee in December, which by my count was at least the third procedure he's had on that knee. One came during his time at Boston College and another was last spring. Microfracture surgery is a serious undertaking that involves drilling holes in the bone to help stimulate recovery. Plenty of players have returned from it, and Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said as recently as last week that "we think he's going to come back fine."

But would the Lions say anything else at this point? If they were concerned about Cherilus' long-term future and interested in drafting a potential replacement at No. 13, I don't think they would say so right now. Speaking last week at the NFL scouting combine, Lions coach Jim Schwartz noted that "injuries have been a concern" for Cherilus.

"He's had some things that have set him back along the way," Schwartz said. "But Gosder's probably our most improved offensive player, particularly on the offensive line last year. He missed most of the offseason last year and then came out in training camp competing for his job. And he didn't win it by default. He stepped out and earned it every single day. He was very consistent and put a lot of the inconsistencies that he had in his first two years behind him, and was having a very, very consistent season. And [we] started to see some of the reasons that he was a first-round draft pick.

"Unfortunately he has been set back a little bit, but I think that he showed enough and had enough success that we feel like he was on the right track and there's good things to come from him."

We discussed one intriguing prospect, Colorado's Nate Solder, earlier this week. After the scouting combine, Scouts Inc. rated Solder the top offensive lineman in the draft and the No. 12 overall prospect. ESPN analyst Mel Kiper, meanwhile, dropped Solder to his No. 22 overall prospectInsider because he completed only 21 repetitions of the 225-pound bench press. USC's Tyron Smith is Kiper's top offensive lineman and his No. 18 overall prospect.