Lions rookie lineman Travis Swanson has fast mind -- and feet

By Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Lions players and coaches have praised third-round pick Travis Swanson’s intelligence above all else since he arrived in Detroit in May, but during offensive line drills, another part of his game stands out.

In a drill in which offensive linemen pretend to be defensive linemen and juke their teammates, Swanson appears to have among the fastest feet in the group. He said he developed his impressive footwork playing lacrosse from middle school through early high school.

“I treated that like my conditioning,” he said of lacrosse. “I love the sport, love to play it and it also gave me something to do. I think that really benefited me as far as footwork.”

Swanson played defense, too, so in addition to hitting people on the lacrosse field, he got to wield a 6-foot stick.

“It’s essentially like pass blocking,” he said.

The 6-foot-5, 312-pound Swanson ran the 40-yard dash in 5.22 seconds at the combine, and although he isn’t very fast, technically sound footwork can help overcome a lack of speed on the interior.

As for the brains, fellow Lions interior lineman Rodney Austin said Swanson is “kind of brilliant,” which is why he’ll likely be a backup option at guard this year despite playing 50 games at center for Arkansas.

“Some guys are just brute strength; some guys are just freak athletes,” Swanson said. “But when you get to the pros, you kind of need to incorporate everything. I feel like you can kind of get away with stuff like that at the college level. You look around and that’s what all the guys here have. They have a mix of everything.”

Although Swanson has shown good potential and will likely be a starter by 2015, he still has plenty to work on, specifically snapping the ball. Throughout camp, Swanson has had a fumbled exchanged nearly every other day with one of the Lions’ top three quarterbacks. And during last week’s 13-12 exhibition win over the Cleveland Browns, a low shotgun snap to Kellen Moore led to a lost fumble and cost the Lions a scoring chance after driving to the Cleveland 8.

“You’ve got to just build a chemistry with the quarterbacks, and they’ve got to build a chemistry with you. And that takes time,” Swanson said. “It’s something that you can’t let linger in your head, so you just work on it every single day.”

The snap issues need to go away and fast in order for the Lions to trust Swanson as Dominic Raiola’s backup, but overall, Swanson thinks he’s improved a lot since being drafted.

“I still have a lot to learn,” he said. “But now I’m comfortable with the playbook, I’m comfortable with the speed of the game and now it’s just a process of getting better every day.”