The Lions spent a lot of their focus this offseason — through free agency, trades and the draft — with two main themes: improve the defense, top to bottom, and get more help for QB Matthew Stafford. Most eyes will be on the various newcomers and Stafford how they are incorporated into the team's schemes.
But it's important, too, to consider one area that didn't see a lot of turnover in the offseason and wonder how much better it will be. The offensive line long has been an area of consternation for the Lions, and it remains a concern until proven otherwise.
The position was not ignored in the offseason. The team traded for Rob Sims, who projects to start at left guard, and drafted OT Jason Fox, who could be groomed as a left tackle down the road. But the holdovers and how they perform will be just as important to the offense as any new bodies the team has added.
Jeff Backus is a public target at left tackle, but he had a solid season in 2009. Head coach Jim Schwartz went out of his way this offseason to praise the work of Backus and the team resisted moving him to left guard, a common suggestion from pundits outside the Lions' facility. Backus turns 33 in September and must show he can stand up to elite pass rushers, something he didn't always do well last season.
Sims is being counted on as a rock the team has lacked at left guard. His strength will be a key factor in the run game, but he also must show he can handle stunts and protect Stafford from the inside rush.
C Dominic Raiola long has been the rock of this line, and though he doesn't have prototypical size, he's a functional leader with a mean streak. Losing him could be a big drop-off as he has been one of the most dependable players the Lions have had in years.
When ORG Stephen Peterman went down last season, the line suffered. He's not an elite athlete, but his toughness is what Schwartz wants more of up front. Peterman is more valuable than most realize.
The biggest upgrade must happen at right tackle. Gosder Cherilus should get more help if TE Brandon Pettigrew returns healthy but must improve in his own right. He hasn't flashed a nasty streak and hasn't improved his technique enough for the Lions' liking. Year Three is a crucial one for Cherilus, and the Lions won't hesitate to make a move with him if he hasn't come along enough.
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