Ex-teammate: Swanson great leader who'll 'kick people in the pants'

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Mobile, Ala. — With the Lions choosing not to re-up with center Dominic Raiola after 14 seasons, the Travis Swanson era will begin in 2015.

Raiola gave his endorsement of Swanson Tuesday in a teleconference, and Wednesday, one of Swanson's former teammates provided some insight into the kind of player the Lions can expect in the middle of their offensive line moving forward.

Martrell Spaight, an Arkansas inside linebacker participating on the South team at the Senior Bowl, played two years with Swanson and said the center's leadership skills became apparent quickly. Swanson was a captain for the Razorbacks in 2012 and 2013, and the Lions drafted him in the third round of last year's draft.

"When I came in and saw Travis, he was just a leader, coaching the O-linemen up on the field and off the field," Spaight said after Wednesday's Senior Bowl practice. "He's just been a great leader since I was with him, always the hardest-working O-lineman, so I'm just happy to see things going well for him."

The 6-foot-5, 312-pound Swanson started all 50 of Arkansas' games at center from 2010-13, but part of the reason the Lions drafted him was his versatility to play guard, too.

He started the season as the top backup to both Raiola and guards Rob Sims and Larry Warford, and when Warford suffered knee injuries, Swanson started at right guard in three regular-season games and the playoff game against the Cowboys.

Swanson also started in Week 17 when Raiola was out with a suspension after stomping on Bears defensive end Ego Ferguson's ankle and played well at the position where the Lions hope he can play for the next decade.

"The Lions are in good hands with him and I'm glad I can leave what I did and move on to Travis," Raiola said. "Couldn't happen to a better guy."

As a rookie, Swanson was relatively quiet, often sitting back and listening to veterans like Raiola and Sims. But at Arkansas, Spaight said Swanson would pay attention to minor details, including the intensity with which his fellow offensive linemen exited the huddle.

"Sometimes he'll kick people in the pants if he has to," Spaight said. "It's never really always yelling at a person. He just made sure he pushed people to be the best they could be."

Spaight said he wasn't surprised at all when he saw Swanson playing guard for the Lions. He thinks Swanson could play tackle, too, if necessary because he's so technically sound. Packers coach Mike McCarthy praised Swanson before the Week 17 game for being able to play as an extra tackle in some of the Lions' run packages.

"You can always look on film and see when a guy's going to be great," Spaight said. "Just going out there and practicing with him, he's always been a hard-working guy."