Ola finding comfort level on improving Lions line

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

New Orleans — Michael Ola joined the Lions on Oct. 20, but on Friday, he said he’s finally feeling comfortable with the terminology on his new team.

A focus on communicating with his fellow linemen helped him overcome any issues as he’s helped the Lions improve their blocking as the starting right tackle the past four games.

“The worst thing I possibly could’ve done was like been silent and then really jacked up everything,” he said.

In addition to asking questions and making sure he knows his role on each play, Ola arrived in Detroit at a relatively good time compared to other midseason acquisitions. The Lions claimed Ola off waivers from the San Diego Chargers a week before firing offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and offensive line coaches Jeremiah Washburn and Terry Heffernan.

It wasn’t a perfect transition for Ola, but his fellow offensive linemen had to make changes to their game under new offensive line coach Ron Prince and coordinator Jim Bob Cooter.

“He learned it at exactly the same time some of the other guys were learning some of the new stuff,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “So, I think that also gave him a little bit of an advantage.”

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Ola spent his first week with the Lions playing guard in practice, the position where he started 12 games for the Chicago Bears in 2012. During his second week, a coach said he should jump in at tackle, the position he played in college and in the UFL, AFL and CFL.

The Lions made Ola active in just his second game, and in a blowout loss to the Chiefs in Week 8, he played four snaps. Then in Week 10 after the bye, Ola replaced starting right tackle LaAdrian Waddle early in a win over the Packers in Green Bay, a team with which he was familiar after playing in Chicago.

And since then, Ola has been the starter and played well enough that the Lions actually waived Waddle last week, showing confidence in Ola and backups Cornelius Lucas and rookie Corey Robinson.

“Ola’s a pretty smart guy,” right guard Larry Warford said. “I feel like he picked it up pretty well.”

Meanwhile, Warford admits he struggled with the changes under the new coaches. For the players who were here, the previous techniques were being ingrained in them all year, and in the middle of the season, the coaches were teaching the linemen things they typically would’ve worked on in offseason workouts, Warford said.

That gave Ola a chance to make the transition with his teammates, and Warford said Ola didn’t have to break some of the habits the other players had. But there were still some challenges for Ola because the other players had a reference point when the coaches were comparing the old blocking methods to the new ones.

“The good thing is everybody’s trying to grasp things at the same time,” Ola said. “The only part that I was slow on is obviously other guys have a better depth of what they’ve been doing, obviously, because they were in midseason form and stuff like that. But at this point now, we all have a semblance of cohesiveness, so we’re growing.”

The Lions haven’t allowed more than four sacks in a game since giving up seven in Week 7 and six in Week 8, and they have at least 100 rushing yards in the four games Ola has started, a feat they reached just once in the first nine games.

And even though Ola effectively took Waddle’s job, he approached his time in Detroit as he has anywhere he’s been — waiting for someone to call his number.

“In my mind, I just look at myself as, if the opportunity presents itself, I know I can play,” he said. “It’s just having people believe that you can play and then putting it out there on film.”