Caldwell: Swanson has to earn starting role in 2016

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
Center Travis Swanson

Boca Raton, Fla. — Lions center Travis Swanson struggled in his first season as a starter, particularly in the first half of 2015, and coach Jim Caldwell and general manager Bob Quinn said it’ll be up to him if he keeps the starting job in 2016.

Caldwell gave a fairly direct answer Wednesday when asked if he’d be comfortable with Swanson being the starter again next season.

“Sure, if he proves it, yeah,” Caldwell said during an NFC coaches breakfast at the NFL annual meetings. “He’s got to play and got to play well and got to play consistently.”

Swanson underwent shoulder surgery in January after dealing with the injury late in the season. Caldwell wouldn’t project his availability for the offseason because the team hasn’t evaluated Swanson’s recovery recently.

Quinn, who took over in January, said lots of starting positions are fluid as the team tries to build a competitive roster with improved depth.

“It’s about competition,” he said. “So, if we find a center, if we add a center to the roster that is better than Travis, then that center’s going to play. If Travis is the best center, he’s going to play.”

A third-round pick in 2014, Swanson started 14 games last year, missing the finale with his shoulder injury and Week 13 with an ankle injury. Manny Ramirez was the backup center, but he’s an unrestricted free agent and won’t return to Detroit.

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In addition to Swanson, the Lions have center options in Gabe Ikard, Darren Keyton and Braxston Cave on the roster. Although interior linemen can typically play center or guard, which Swanson showed as a rookie in 2014, Larry Warford will likely remain the right guard while Laken Tomlinson sticks at left guard next season.

Quinn wouldn’t say how much of a priority a center is in April’s draft.

“You tell me who’s going to be there, and I’ll tell you if it’s a priority or not,” he said.