Allen Park — In a conference call with Detroit reporters a few years back, Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians perfectly summed up the high standards expected of an NFL offensive lineman.
"Any time you are an offensive lineman and you win 36 (snaps) and lose four, you stink," Arians said.
That line is fitting for what Lions guard Laken Tomlinson is going through right now. A first-round pick in 2015, he's contributed to the offense line's impressive start to the season, but he's also made multiple mistakes in both of the team's first two games, which has his coaches seeking more consistency.
"I’ve seen some really good stuff, he’s just got to get a little more consistent, a lot more consistent," offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said.
Offensive linemen want to go unnoticed. If you're not hearing their name during a broadcast then they're probably not giving up a sack or committing a penalty. In other words, they're doing their job.
Through two games, the Lions offensive line has exceeded expectations. Sure, they're still giving up too many sacks — five to be exact — but the ground game has been unexpectedly effective. Heading into the team's Week 3 matchup with the Green Bay Packers, the Lions are averaging 5.6 yards per carry, which ranks third in the NFL.
Individually, there's plenty of praise to go around. Rookie left tackle Taylor Decker has quickly adjusted to the pro game and is paying early dividends on his first-round draft investment. Riley Reiff has brought much-needed stability at right tackle. Larry Warford is healthy and back to opening holes for the running backs. And no one has shown more improvement than third-year center Travis Swanson.
Then there's Tomlinson. He's allowed two sacks, a tackle for a loss and drawn two flags for holding. He's also been beaten by a defender a handful of other plays.
Mind you, the Lions have played 144 offensive snaps and Tomlinson has been on the field for all of them. He's accomplished his assignment approximately 90 percent of those plays, but, like Arians said, if you're losing your individual matchup 10 percent of the time, it's a problem.
"The more consistent we can be, the better," Cooter said. "Sometimes, in this league, you’re going to have really tough matchups, you’re going to have really good players. Those guys are going to really stress you, but that’s the NFL. We’ve got to get better, that’s a lot of spots on our offense we can all kind of improve."
At this stage, there's been no hint the Lions are considering a change. Behind Tomlinson on the depth chart there's only more youth, rookies Graham Glasgow and Joe Dahl, who will likely be prone to the same physical errors. Plus, coach Jim Caldwell sounds optimistic about the continued improvement of his young line, Tomlinson included.
"There are some nuances within the structure of the scheme that he’s certainly getting a better feel for because things happen pretty quickly for all of those guys up front," Caldwell said. "Oftentimes you may find, depending upon a situation, it could be they have three, four seconds to get a call and relay it all up and down the line. That sometimes can be a little taxing on young guys, but I can see them more and more as just getting a little bit better, a little bit better. It’s slowing down for them a little bit more, but still a challenge."