Lions' Decker hasn't 'arrived,' but he's on his way

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Allen Park — It's never overly simple to measure the success of an offensive lineman.

But, by the measurables possible, Lions rookie offensive tackle Taylor Decker had a solid if unspectacular debut in the season-opening win over the Indianapolis Colts.

The left tackle played a significant hand in keeping quarterback Matthew Stafford upright — he was sacked just once — and helped give him time to throw for 340 yards and three touchdowns, and helped open holes for a running game to average 4.8 yards per carry.

The Lions scored 39 points in the opener, the most of any team in the league.

"A good thing to build off of," Decker said earlier in the week, ahead of preparation for this week's foe, the Tennessee Titans. "A good foundation to start on.

"Obviously, not a finished product. We're a group that wants to get better.

"It was good for me to go out there and play in a full game, build some confidence moving forward."

The test gets tougher this week against a Titans' team with a scary-good front seven, which, under the direction of defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, a Lions Hall of Famer, held Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson to 31 yards on 19 carries in the season opener.

Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, an elite pass rusher, figures to be one of the match-ups Decker will be facing in his second professional start.

"He's really disruptive," Decker said. "They move him all over the field and try to create mismatches.

"We have good players, too, so go out there and be confident in your technique."

Decker, 22, was the Lions' first-round pick in April, out of Ohio State. They used the 16th overall pick on the 6-foot-7, 315-pounder.

Interestingly, he was reportedly a target of the Titans, too. But they traded up to No. 8 to grab another former star offensive tackle from the Big Ten, Michigan State's Jack Conklin.

Like Decker, Conklin made his first pro start in the opener, too -- playing opposite another former Big Ten star, left tackle Taylor Lewan from Michigan.

"Quality first game for the young guy," Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said of Decker. "I thought he did well. Definitely some things to clean up. We're still working through some stuff. That's going to be the case with all young players, and this is a game of young players, right?

"He's got to keep it coming."

Decker acknowledged some work to do, though he's impressed all throughout camp.

"Just watching our guys, you're not going to be perfect every play," quarterback Matthew Stafford said of the offensive line. "You're going to have bad plays, but being able to move on, move past them, like everybody has to do in this league."

That's a big key, Decker said.

Especially for a rookie, who's learning on the fly.

"There definitely were mistakes," he said. "It's an imperfect game. You strive for perfection, but it's not going to happen. There's just too many variables. You need to be able to move on, not dwell on those mistakes you made.

"If you're worrying about what you did two drives ago, you're probably going to make another mistakes."

Decker and Co. certainly did its job on the final drive of the game against the Colts.

Down one with 37 seconds -- and three timeouts -- left, the line gave Stafford time to go 50 yards in three plays, setting up the winning 43-yard field goal by Matt Prater. That sure was a memorable ending to a memorable debut for Decker.

"I mean, it was a pretty wild first game for me, as far as the outcome of it," he said. "Pretty cool way to start your NFL career."

And the best, the Lions believe, is yet to come.

He hasn't allowed a sack since early in the exhibition-season opener.

"He did well," coach Jim Caldwell said of Decker. "When I say well, I'm not talking about, 'He's arrived.

"I mean, he's part of a line, it's the youngest line that probably I've ever been around. When you look at it, it's probably one of the youngest in the history of this franchise for awhile. The whole group all together, they hung in there, but every week it's going to be a little different challenge.

"These guys this week that they face, it's going to take all we have a little bit more."

Titans at Lions

Kickoff: 1 Sunday, Ford Field, Detroit

TV/radio: CBS/WJR

Records: Titans 0-1, Lions 1-0

Line: Lions by 6

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