Ramirez is expected to be leader on offensive line

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Allen Park — For the first time since 2009, the Lions are going through organized team activities without Dominic Raiola at center and Rob Sims at left guard.

Filling those roles will come down to a battle between Laken Tomlinson, Travis Swanson and Manny Ramirez. Coach Jim Caldwell, however, said Wednesday the real competition won't begin just yet.

"You can't tell anything about a guy on the interior — whether or not he can play for you — until you get pads on," he said. "So right now, we're just trying to learn what to do, make certain they know where to go, understand how we practice. We're trying to build winning habits, and I think we can do that."

Swanson was a third-round pick in 2014. Although he was a four-year starting center at Arkansas, his first significant playing time last year came in three starts at right guard filling in for Larry Warford, who is one of two offensive linemen (left tackle Riley Reiff) secure in his starting job. Swanson also started at center Week 17 when Raiola was serving a suspension.

That experience has led to a "night and day difference" at OTAs this year for Swanson.

Ramirez, who spent 2007-10 with the Lions, likely will have a chance to compete at center.

"When you play behind Dom enough, you learn so much just because of the way Dom saw the game, and you can see that with Swanny," Ramirez said.

Tomlinson, the 28th overall pick this year, started 52 games at right guard at Duke, but the Lions hope he can be their long-term solution at left guard after not re-signing Sims, who joined the Lions after being traded from the Seahawks in 2010.

Like Warford two years ago, though, if Tomlinson locks down a starting job, it likely won't be apparent until late August. During Wednesday's practice, Ramirez played left guard with the starters while Tomlinson was the backup.

Even though Ramirez is entering his ninth season, he's still learning, too. He spent time at center and right guard the last four years in Denver, but hasn't played left guard since 2009.

Ramirez, acquired from the Broncos after the Lions traded down in the first round of the draft, said he's focusing on improving his technique and footwork as he adjusts to the different stance on the left side.

Whether or not he wins a starting job, Ramirez can contribute as a leader in the offensive line room.

"(He) has a good sense of what being a real pro is and I think you'll see some of that wear off on some of our young guys," Caldwell said of Ramirez.

Swanson called Ramirez a "top-of-the-line guy" based on the month they've spent together, and Ramirez said filling a leadership role won't be much different than what he had to do in Denver.

Ultimately, though, the Lions will have one of the youngest offensive lines in the NFL this season with LaAdrian Waddle (third year) or Cornelius Lucas (second year) likely starting at right tackle.