Players give their impressions as the Detroit Lions' full team takes to the practice field for the first day of training camp, Tuesday, June 13, 2017, in Allen Park. Daniel Mears, The Detroit News
Allen Park — When offensive lineman Joe Dahl arrived in Detroit a little more than a year ago — a fifth-round draft pick out of Washington State — his skill set needed to be completely retooled.
A two-year starting left tackle, who earned first-team All-Pac 12 honors and was named a second-team All-American by USA Today as a senior, Dahl wasn’t used to playing out of a traditional three-point stance. And his run-blocking techniques essentially had to be built from the ground up, having rarely required the skill in the Cougars’ Air Raid attack.
“The huge thing was we hardly ran any plays, we were really simple scheme-wise,” Dahl said. “We never played in a three-point stance, we hardly ever run blocked. It’s just learning all new schemes, all new techniques. It’s entirely different.”
But after Taylor Decker suffered a shoulder injury that’s expected to shelve him well into the regular season, the Lions might turn to Dahl to be the team’s stopgap on the blindside.
The Lions cross-trained Dahl as a rookie, working him at every position along the offensive line. But for all intents and purposes, he was a guard. Still, he estimated he got some work in at tackle every other practice.
Dahl played sparingly in games, not seeing time along the offensive line until the final two contests, where he rotated in for 20 snaps.
Coming into this offseason, he was expected to compete with Graham Glasgow and former first-round pick Laken Tomlinson for the left guard job, but when Decker went down, and with backup Corey Robinson still dealing with a foot injury suffered late last season, Dahl was thrust into timeshare of first-team work with Cornelius Lucas.
Dahl has come a long way since his first practices with the Lions. Assignments and techniques that were unfamiliar are starting to feel second nature. Developing into the line’s Swiss army knife, he was asked which position he feels most confident playing.
“Whatever I play last, honestly,” he said. “I repped more tackle today, so probably tackle right now.”
And while he still has all of training camp to hone his skills on the perimeter of the line, Dahl is confident he could start at left tackle for the Lions today, if needed.
“I’d feel very comfortable with all the reps I’ve gotten this spring,” he said. “I’ve come so far from where I was, definitely from where I was right when I got here, especially learning all the techniques.”
Admittedly, you can only tell so much about a lineman’s performance in these pad-less practices, but Dahl has more than held his own in the sessions open to the media, even when he matched up against a Pro Bowl-caliber talent in Ziggy Ansah on Tuesday.
And Dahl has the full support of Decker. The pair forged a friendship during the pre-draft process last season that only strengthened as they navigated their rookie seasons. The pair, along with Glasgow, even roomed together during the year.
Decker attended Tuesday’s practice, observing the entire session with his right shoulder in a sling.
“Taylor is awesome right now,” Dahl said. “When we’re watching film, he’ll tell me anything that comes to mind. And any time I need help on what technique he would use or something scheme-wise, he’ll help me out.”
And if Dahl needs additional inspiration, he just needs to look to Rick Wagner, on the opposite end of the line.
A former walk-on at Wisconsin, Wagner is also a former fifth-round draft pick. Like Dahl, Wagner played little as a rookie, before earning a starting job and developing into one of the game’s premier right tackles.
“I think the main thing, I just try to learn everything I can from him,” Dahl said. “He’s obviously had a good career so far and I just try to pick his brain as much as I can.”
There’s still plenty of time before the Lions need to settle on Decker’s fill-in. Lucas holds the experience edge and Robinson, once he gets cleared, will be a strong contender. But after a year sitting and learning, Dahl also appears prepared to make his case.