Lions rookie Laken Tomlinson playing beyond his years

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Allen Park — With Larry Warford healthy for Week 6, Lions rookie Laken Tomlinson leapfrogged veteran Manny Ramirez for the starting left guard spot for the first time this season.

Because of Warford's lingering ankle injury, Tomlinson has already started four games, and despite being a first-round pick in April, coach Jim Caldwell said the Lions didn't plan for him to play as much as he has.

"He's playing a little earlier than we thought he would, but I think he's taken advantage of this opportunity," Caldwell said Wednesday.

The Lions drafted Tomlinson 28th overall, and in trading down from the 23rd spot, they received Ramirez from the Denver Broncos.

The expectation publicly was that Tomlinson would be the Week 1 starter due to his draft status, but the Lions spent most of the summer operating with Ramirez as the top left guard.

When the season began, though, Warford — the starting right guard — was hurt, so both of the offseason acquisitions started, with Ramirez moving to right guard while Tomlinson played left. Warford returned to start Week 2 and 3 with Ramirez starting at left guard before missing the next two games.

Lions' Zach Zenner recovering after surgery

Guard Laken Tomlinson (72) has impressed in his rookie season.

But, when Warford was back last Sunday, Tomlinson was the top option at right guard, and Caldwell said the rookie's progress in all phases helped him jump ahead of the 32-year-old Ramirez.

"He's improved, taken advantage of the opportunities he's had," Caldwell said. "He's really coming along."

Tomlinson undoubtedly had his best game Sunday after some struggles in previous games. Pro Football Focus even graded Tomlinson as the Lions' best offensive player against the Bears — higher than even Calvin Johnson — and he had positive grades as a run and pass blocker.

Tomlinson will start again Sunday after his impressive performance, and with none of their offensive linemen listed on Wednesday's injury report, the Lions will likely have the same starting group as it did against Chicago.

Caldwell acknowledged that Tomlinson will have a different challenge Sunday against the Vikings as different defensive linemen use different moves, but regardless of who he's playing, the rookie has shown growth across the board.

"There's not any that he really hasn't (improved)," Caldwell said.