Allen Park — It will be months before the Detroit Lions establish a starting lineup.
But if we’re to put any stock into the early indicators, first-round draft pick Frank Ragnow will be spending his rookie season playing guard, not center, where he established himself as one of the best offensive linemen in college football the past two years.
During the team’s third OTA practice on Thursday — and the first open to the media — Ragnow spent the day working with the first-team offense, but didn’t handle any snapping duties. And while no one in the organization is committing to having him stick to the spot, there’s some underlying logic to letting him get his feet wet at guard as opposed to center.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford, talking about his role in developing the team’s young offensive linemen, placed an emphasis on communication, and there’s no spot along the line where the communication with the quarterback is more critical than with the center.
“Obviously, the center and I have to be on the same page, quite often,” Stafford said. “Even in the run game, the way they’re blocking it and where they’re expecting backs to go, all that kind of stuff, communication is so key. That’s another thing you build during this time of year.”
Stafford made it clear that he wasn’t implying Ragnow isn’t capable of handling center immediately, but did note the inherent advantages of experience for the position.
“You see them step in and play well across the league, but it is a very mental position,” Stafford said. “You know, there’s a lot that goes into it and the more familiar you are with the NFL and all that — just how schemes are played and how defense are played, what you’re trying to do on offense — I think the more experiences that those guys have, the better they can be.”
Stafford had the benefit of a veteran center his first several seasons, working with Dominic Raiola. Travis Swanson, Raiola’s replacement, had nearly a full season of experience before he got his first start at the position. And now, with Graham Glasgow entering his third season, the Lions don’t have to force Ragnow into the job right away.
For what it’s worth, Ragnow doesn’t care where he plays.
“I don’t have a preference,” he said. “I just want to be out there, helping the team. I played a lot of positions in high school, I played a lot of positions in college, I just like playing football. Wherever they put me, I’m going to be happy to be there.”
Ragnow points out that he essentially split his time evenly between center and guard at Arkansas, which allows him to be comfortable at both spots. But he’s also making a commitment to being an open-minded learner, acknowledging that he’s soaking up every bit of information he can get from Glasgow and veteran guard T.J. Lang.
“Both of them have been incredible, really helpful, giving me a lot of tips day to day,” Ragnow said. “It’s been a real blessing to have both of them in the room.
“I’m going to continue to keep my head down and my ears wide open and learn from whatever (Lang) has to say.”
Talking to his teammates, the early impressions of Ragnow are that he’s quiet and a hard worker. Stafford joked that the rookie hasn’t said much to him in the early potion of the offseason program.
But what’s important for Ragnow, as it is for all offensive linemen, is that he’s not standing out. If you’re being noticed while blocking in the trenches, you’re probably doing something wrong. So despite being challenged with early reps working with the team’s starting unit, the fact that he’s blending in is about the best compliment he could receive.
“He just kind of fits in with the group, and fits in and plays,” coach Matt Patricia said. “You’re not really looking at it and saying, ‘That’s out of place,’ like it looks like it’s out of place. I haven’t noticed that at all.”