No glaring issues for Lions' Decker during joint practice
Latrobe, Pa. — Taylor Decker isn't expected to be some kind of franchise savior, but the rookie offensive tackle is being counted on to solidify the Detroit Lions' offensive line, a unit that has collectively struggled in recent years.
Starting at left tackle since the day he joined the organization, as the No. 16 pick in this year's NFL draft, Decker has largely held his own on the practice field while dealing with typical inconsistencies faced by young players at the position. But Tuesday's practice, a joint session with the Pittsburgh Steelers, provided Decker and the Lions a different experience as he readies for this debut season.
"It's kind of hard to put into words how important it is to get that," Decker said. "I've been playing against the same guys since spring, so to get some exposure to different defenses, different players is going to be good for my growth."
That difference is going from blocking human trees — rangy and athletic defensive ends like Ziggy Ansah and Devin Taylor — to handling the smaller, speedier linebackers utilized in the Steelers' 3-4 defense. Early during the practice, during one-on-one pass-rush drills, the quickness seemed to catch Decker off guard, but as the day moved to team-centric portions, the rookie settled down nicely.
"I didn’t notice any glaring problems consistently, but I’ll look at the film, he probably held his own," coach Jim Caldwell said. "I’ll look at the film a little bit more closely, but nothing jumped out at me. When it doesn’t jump out at you typically he’s OK."
Caldwell spent an inordinate amount of time parked directly behind the offensive line during the practice, getting a firsthand look at a unit that holds the key to the offense's potential in 2016. The Lions have invested plenty of resources into the group the past four years, including three first-round picks and a trio of third-round selections.
As a group, the starting unit appeared effective in pass-blocking situations, but running room was tough to come by against the Steelers. The linemen strong, helping the offense put together a long, methodical touchdown drive against Pittsburgh's top defensive unit.
"You know, they played well in some spurts and not so well in others," Caldwell said. "That’s kind of what we expect, that’s what it’s all about. This is a real challenging situation that's presented to them. It gives an opportunity so see someone that’s a little bit different than the guys they’ve been practicing against. They can’t anticipate nearly as much. They have to rely on the fundamentals and techniques, so I think that was huge."
Coming into this offseason, both the pass and run blocking were a concern. The team allowed quarterback Matthew Stafford to be sacked 89 times the past two seasons and the Lions' ground game has been a bottom-five unit the past two years, including dead last in 2015.