Warford: Lions' new OL ready to apply some whoopins

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
Larry Warford

Allen Park — The Lions' offensive line meeting had a new look when the team gathered for the start of voluntary offseason workouts Monday.

For the first time since 2001, center Dominic Raiola isn't on the team. Guard Rob Sims was here the last five years and tackle Corey Hilliard the last six, but neither is back in Detroit.

Instead, fourth-year tackle Riley Reiff, third-year guard Larry Warford and second-year center Travis Swanson are now the de facto leaders of the group.

And Warford understands this year's offensive line must improve after a 2014 season in which the Lions allowed 45 sacks and finished 28th in rushing.

"We have to be more aggressive," Warford said. "We can't be as technical as we tried to be. The biggest thing is we tried to break everything down. We tried to focus on a bunch of stuff at once and down to the smallest detail.

"With offensive line play, that's cool, but at the end of the day you have to whoop somebody's (butt), and we weren't necessarily being the players that we were trained to be from the start. We became somewhat robotic in a sense."

Warford said the first thing offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn told the group Monday was he wants a line that comes off the ball quickly in the run game and sets the pocket in the pass game. After last year's issues, the linemen won't focus on every little step, but rather the big picture of creating holes and keeping quarterback Matthew Stafford upright.

Washburn also noted the change in leadership, Warford said, and put the onus on players who will be in the lineup, including second-year player Swanson.

"He's not a rookie anymore," Warford said. "He's a vet, and he has to carry himself that way. His opinions matter."

Now, the younger linemen have to take the hard-nosed approach Warford saw from Raiola, Sims and Hilliard. Raiola, 36, and Sims, 31, remain free agents, and Hilliard, 29, is with the New York Jets.

"They come from a different era in football and that era was like, mentally, they were stupid tough," Warford said. "It sucks that we don't have that type of leadership with us. … The biggest thing is carrying that mentality with us

"Football's going to go on without (them). We have to move on from that and we have to take it upon ourselves to be the next guys up."

Currently, the Lions don't have a single player on the roster with NFL experience at left guard. The team is also hoping to upgrade the left tackle spot, which would move Reiff to the right side. And even though the Lions have unanswered questions along the offensive line, Warford said he's confident in the other players to step up and fill the void left by the veterans.

Warford has been the Lions' best offensive lineman since the team drafted him in the third round in 2014, but he's trying to improve his game, too. In addition to rehabbing the knee injury that held him out of the playoff loss in Dallas, Warford returned to Arizona to work out with former NFL offensive lineman LeCharles Bentley for the third year in a row.

The key to Warford's improvement is trying not to be perfect, a mindset he brought into Year 2 that resulted in a dip in performance.

"With me, I get really nervous with myself as far as progressing as a football player and I try so many things," Warford said. "I try to do new things, I try to implement so many things in my game when my greatest skill is consistency. I think last year I tried a whole bunch of different stuff, and I was trying to find something new to make me better and it didn't work out."

Warford said he's his own biggest critic, but now understands to avoid trying to fix something that's not broken. And as one of the leaders on the offensive line, he knows he can't get too down on himself, as he did the past couple years.

"For me, my whole goal is my attitude as far as every day coming in, being the guy who can lift people up and not going into the (emotional) modes I used to go into the past two seasons," he said.