Guard Stephen Peterman, who was injured last season, and tackle Jon Jansen, fighting for a starting job at right tackle, are two of the offensive linemen the Lions are counting on this season. (Daniel Mears/The Detroit News)
Fans see the swift young running back and the swift tall receiver and get all tingly. They see the touted quarterback and the towering tight ends and the expensive new receiver and they start thinking, hey, the Lions should score some points, no?
Yes, they should. I'm not even being irrational, blinded by the unblemished glint of training camp. But before everyone buys completely into the offensive dazzle, we need to inspect two other pieces.
The burly new left guard and the burly returning right guard.
Sorry to bore you, but it's the truth, and after all the scrutiny and juggling and pointed questions, the Lions' offensive line knows it. Quarterback Matthew Stafford is the leader and Calvin Johnson is the star and Jahvid Best is the rookie flash, and they need to be good for the Lions to stop being so darn bad.
But let me introduce you to left guard Rob Sims, a personable pro who started for most of his four seasons in Seattle. He was acquired in a relatively overlooked trade and immediately plugged into a gaping hole. Steady right guard Stephen Peterman, out the final seven games last season because of an ankle injury, is back, and both are asked to solidify the unit that must protect the franchise's most-valuable merchandise.
Sims, a fourth-round pick from Ohio State, isn't quite as big a name as, say, Ndamukong Suh, but if he can stop the position's revolving door, he might be as big an addition as anyone.
"I think this is gonna be a special group," Sims, 26, said. "I think the hype is warranted, I really do. When you're on the outside looking in, you think, what are they doing over there (in Detroit)? But then you get here and see some of this talent and you're like, 'You guys only won two games?' "
That's two victories in two years, but I don't mind saying this is the most-touted 2-30 team in NFL history (also, the only one). Legitimately, they should be improved in several areas, including the defensive line. Logically, it all bogs down if they're not improved on the offensive line.
Something to prove
Jim Schwartz likes what he sees so far. So does center Dominic Raiola, who in 10 seasons here has lined up alongside -- conservative estimate -- 1,593 different left guards. He tries to contain his enthusiasm but has a hard time doing it, especially when he sees 17,000-plus fans at Ford Field for Saturday's practice.
"We have to prove to them we're gonna be better and this isn't all hype," Raiola said. "People can downplay (Sims) as much as they want, but that's a huge upgrade. I feel a lot better about our line. I think we do have the weapons, but they'll only go as far as we take them."
And how far is that? Well, I'm on the record as saying all the way to 5-11, but I'm flexible. You don't win many games without a good defense, and the Lions do not have a good defense.
But maybe, just maybe, they have an offense that can attract fans and distract defenses. With Stafford, Best, Johnson, receiver Nate Burleson and tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler, the Lions could create a few matchup problems.
Schwartz isn't recklessly stoking that notion, but he's not tempering it either.
"Last year, fans had a much more guarded approach -- I'll believe it when I see it," Schwartz said. "They've suffered for a long time but they're genuinely optimistic, and they have reason to be. We've seen good signs on the line, although we haven't played a game yet. We've got some good players here, guys that you can buy their jersey and not have to worry about getting rid of it next year."
Line must stay healthy
At the Lions' open practices, the big-selling jerseys are Stafford, Johnson and Suh. If you see a Sims jersey, I'm guessing it's an old Billy Sims model.
Fans don't buy offensive linemen's clothing, but they sure know how to yell their names. Last season, after Peterman went down, an array of candidates flailed haplessly at both guard spots.
It's impossible to fairly evaluate linemen if there's one gigantic breakdown, let alone two. The Lions aren't strong enough to compensate, with Jeff Backus at one tackle and Gosder Cherilus trying to hold off veteran Jon Jansen at the other. They've changed coaches and systems so often, they've developed little continuity.
Sims was acquired for unheralded defensive end Robert Henderson and an exchange of low draft picks. Everyone has to stay healthy, but with four returnees and one intriguing addition, the line actually might have a fighting chance.
"I believe I can be one of the better guards in the league," said Sims, 6-3 and 312 pounds. "I thought I was one of Seattle's better guys, but with a new coach there, the planets were realigned. And here I am."
Here he is, small name, small news. Big hole, big role.