Finding Taylor Decker’s sub is Lions’ biggest camp task

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
New Lions offensive linemen Cyrus Kouandjio, left, and Greg Robinson, right, listen at the team's mini-camp in June.

Over the next several days leading up to the start of Lions training camp, Justin Rogers of The Detroit News will highlight the key position battles. Today: Left tackle.

Allen Park – Some things you just can’t anticipate. After an offseason spent plugging roster holes, the Detroit Lions were blindsided by a sudden void, well, at the blind side.

One year after taking the field every offensive snap, and showing the makings of a potentially premier left tackle, Taylor Decker reminded us all NFL players are just one wrong play away from landing on the shelf.

Decker suffered a shoulder injury during an OTA practice, reportedly a torn labrum. And while the anticipation is he’ll be back at some point this season, he’s likely going to miss a significant chunk of his sophomore campaign while recovering from surgery.

That’s a conundrum for Lions general manager Bob Quinn, who made it his top priority to strengthen the team’s offensive line since taking the job in 2016. Decker was the crown jewel of the unit’s makeover.

For the next month, the team will attempt to find a stop-gap from a wealth of less-than-ideal candidates, two of whom have yet to step on the practice field for the Lions.

On the final day of minicamp last month, Detroit added a pair of formerly highly touted prospects, who have, to this point, failed to live up to lofty professional expectations. Greg Robinson, the No. 2 pick in the 2014 draft, was acquired in a trade, while Cyrus Kouandjio, a second-round choice that same year, was signed as a free agent.

The double dip suggests the Lions were far from content with the replacement options they’d had on the roster, Cornelius Lucas and guard Joe Dahl. Dahl briefly practiced at tackle, where he played in college at Washington State, albeit a far different style and system.

Going strictly by the price tag, it’s fair to consider Robinson the early front-runner for the job. Quinn wouldn’t have taken on the final year Robinson’s contract, at a hefty rate of $3.32 million, if the general manager didn’t believe he was bringing in a player capable of making a significant contribution.

Robinson undeniably fell short of expectations with the Rams, who were looking at moving him to guard before dumping him on the Lions, but one of the team’s former linemen, Geoff Schwartz, writing for SB Nation, explained why Robinson could find success in Detroit.

“The Lions demand their entire offensive line jump-sets defenders in pass protection,” Schwartz writes. “It fits perfectly into Robinson’s strong suit. He can use his quickness and strength to overwhelm defenders at the line of scrimmage in the pass game. He doesn’t have to be patient and play in space. He can attack.”

And if Robinson doesn’t mesh as expected, maybe Kouandjio is a lottery ticket who pays out. He’s coming off a non-football hip injury that required surgery this offseason, but showed some promise on the field for the Bills last season in five starts. Pro Football Focus graded him above-average as both a run blocker and pass protector.

With Lucas, the Lions largely know what they have – a tall, long swing tackle who is better suited for the right side.

A final piece to this equation, depending on his health, is Corey Robinson. A former seventh-round pick, he’s shown steady progress on the practice field, at least when he’s been able to be out there. Durability has been elusive, and after suffering a foot injury late last season, he hasn’t participated in any of the team’s offseason programs.

There won’t be a more critical competition this camp. Replacing Decker, finding someone to competently protect quarterback Matthew Stafford against the league’s elite pass rushers, will go a long way toward determining the overall success of the team’s offense.


Today: Left tackle

Tuesday: Nickelback

Wednesday: Third-fifth receivers

Thursday: SAM linebacker

Friday: Left guard

Saturday: Fourth-fifth defensive ends

Monday, July 24: Fourth running back

Tuesday, July 25: Backup defensive tackles

Wednesday, July 26: Backup quarterback