Tomlinson: Better OL performance is up to players

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
Laken Tomlinson

Chandler's Cross, England — Lions rookie guard Laken Tomlinson spoke in circles Thursday as he tried to explain how the offensive line will change under coach Ron Prince, who moved from his previous duties with tight ends after the team fired line coaches Jeremiah Washburn and Terry Heffernan Monday.

By the end of the interview, though, Tomlinson made the key distinction that the best way to improve the line is for the players to execute better.

"We still have to go out there and block," he said The Grove, where the team is preparing for its London game against the Chiefs. "We still have to go out there and do our jobs. … We're not going to, like, throw out our playbook."

As is the case with the offense under new coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, who's replacing Joe Lombardi, the Lions don't expect wholesale changes with the line under Prince. But a new voice and new set of eyes could help lead to improvement — that's the hope, at least.

As he tried to explain the differences, Tomlinson referenced a quotation his college coach, Duke's David Cutcliffe, used regularly.

"A confused player looks like a lazy player," Tomlinson said before saying confusion wasn't a major issue for the line the first seven games.

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Tomlinson also talked about how a simpler concept can help players avoid thinking too much, before declining to say whether Prince's blocking scheme will be simpler than Washburn's. Coach Jim Caldwell cautioned against thinking Tomlinson's comments meant the previous scheme was too complex for the players, and even if it was, Caldwell wouldn't blame that for a blocking unit that has too frequently allowed free rushers this season.

"I don't make any excuses about anything," he said. "I don't think (it was too complex). I don't believe that.

"Simplification is only good if it works, and for us, we're trying to just make certain our guys can do what they do well. We may have a little different variety, maybe a little different twist here and there along the way, but you can't make a thousand changes in a very, very short period of time and expect your guys to grasp it, particularly after teams that you're facing are still operating and doing the same things they were working on in the spring."

And even though the Lions will change some of the ways they block, Tomlinson said it remains to be seen how the players will perform with the transition.

Prince, a longtime offensive line coach before working with the Lions' tight ends, tried to ease the coaching switch by working with the linemen immediately after the firings Monday, Tomlinson said. Some of the technique is different and Prince has put an emphasis on physicality in practice, and Tomlinson is excited to put the new ideas to use Sunday against the Chiefs (9:30 a.m., FOX).

And as embarrassing at it was to give up seven sacks and 13 hits last Sunday, the Lions had their second-best rushing performance of the season with 77 yards on 17 carries, a 4.5-yard average.

"We did some really good things on film; we've just got to be more consistent," Tomlinson said. "The more consistent we can be, obviously the more success we'll have."