July 30, 2014 at 3:45 pm

Rob Sims proud of Lions offensive line's rise

Detroit News sports writers on Day 2 of Lions trai...
Detroit News sports writers on Day 2 of Lions trai...: Josh Katzenstein and Rod Beard discuss the Lions

Allen Park — Before Rob Sims joined the Lions four years ago, the offensive line was a bit shaky.

To call it one of the weaker position groups on the team wouldn’t have been a stretch, with the Lions ranking 21st in passing (3,168 yards) and 24th in rushing (1,616 yards) in 2009. The group that started that season included left tackle Jeff Backus, left guard Daniel Loper, center Dominic Raiola, right guard Stephen Peterman and right tackle Gosder Cherilus.

But Sims, 30, entering his fifth season with the Lions, and ninth overall, has helped turn a position of weakness into a group that has become one of the strongest on the team. The Lions have retooled almost every position since 2009, with Raiola the only holdover from that line.

With Riley Reiff at left tackle, Sims at left guard, Raiola at center, Larry Warford at right guard and Jason Fox, Corey Hilliard and LaAdrian Waddle at right tackle, the Lions ranked third in passing yards (4,482) and 17th in rushing yards (1,792) last season. Waddle likely will take over at right tackle, but the rest of the group will stay intact — and be one of the focal points of the offense that has high expectations this season.

For Sims, it’s a complete turnaround for a once-maligned group.

“We’re handling it the right way and not reading our press clippings — even though they are kind of fun to look at once in a while,” Sims said. “It’s fun to get some notoriety for your hard work and it’s really paying off.

“It’s been great; it’s been something we’ve taken a lot of pride in.”

With three young players in the group — Reiff (third season), Warford (second) and Waddle (second) — there is plenty to look forward to. Reiff took a little bit of time to adjust while learning behind veteran Jeff Backus but seems more comfortable now.

“My third year is when the light kind of came on for me. In the first couple of years, you do a lot of swimming and trying to figure out how you’re going to play and play different people,” Sims said. “Riley is fearless; he steps up to anybody and goes and plays them. This year, his technique is going to get better and we’re going to have a good year on the left side.”

For Sims, it’s big season, as he goes into a contract year after missing some of the offseason to fix some injuries.

“That was my first offseason of not actually being on the field and not playing,” Sims said. “That’s a time where I do a lot of experimenting with my game and my technique. I didn’t have it and I was worried about how it was going to go, but I’ve been strong up to this point.”

The problems started two years ago, when Sims said he was having one of his best seasons. The buildup and regular wear-and-tear of being an offensive lineman finally caught up with him and he decided to get things worked on this year.

“Two years ago, I had some stress going on with my knees and I needed to take care of that. On the offensive line, you just battle through it,” he said. “Jeff Backus missed one game because he had a four-day stretch to get ready. We pride ourselves on toughness and sometimes you have to take a seat and get some help. I did that and I feel better for it.”

With the additions of receiver Golden Tate and tight end Eric Ebron, the offensive skill positions will get a lot of the attention this year, but the line will dictate how much time quarterback Matthew Stafford gets in order to throw them the ball.

“We’ve been talking for some years about getting Calvin (Johnson) some help. He’s been out here for years being Superman or Megatron or whatever you want to call him,” Sims said. “Adding another piece like Golden Tate, who is young and is going to continue to grow, is going to be big for us.”

But having the whole group back from last year helps with the chemistry and ensuring the line remains a strength and builds confidence.

“(Last year) there were some question marks. Larry was just coming in and had two practices in at this point,” Sims said. “We’re confident we were going to put a good product on the field, but this year we know what we’re dealing with and as long as everybody on this field and everybody in the meeting room stays on target, we’ll be fine.”

Rod.Beard@detroitnews.com
Twitter.com/detnewsRodBeard

Rob Sims, 30, entering his fifth season with the Lions, and ninth overall, has helped turn the offensive line from a position of weakness into a group that has become one of the strongest on the team. / Daniel Mears / Detroit News