Lions experimenting with new offensive line combination
Allen Park — It will be a few more months before the Detroit Lions need to establish the makeup of the team's starting offensive line, but the grouping being rolled out during the first couple of OTA practices isn't one that had been previously discussed when considering the possibilities.
During Tuesday's session, it was Frank Ragnow shifting to center, Graham Glasgow at right guard — the spot previously manned by T.J. Lang — with veteran Kenny Wiggins, the presumed front-runner to replace Lang, flipping to the left side vacated by Ragnow.
Got all that?
It's OK, if you don't. As mentioned, there's still plenty of time for the Lions to sort things out, and they'll tell you the current alignment is simply part of the grander plan to cross-train for all possibilities.
"We evaluate a lot of players at a lot of different positions," Lions coach Matt Patricia said before the practice. "The spring is a great time to do that. Frank knew how to play center last year, too. So, that was really good for us, just in case those situations come up. Graham, he cross-trains at guard. He’s played guard before in the league, so he’s got a little bit more experience than Frank does playing center in the NFL right now.
"It’s just a great opportunity for us to get a look at all different sort of combinations of players that we have," Patricia continued. "Ultimately, the offensive line, I may have mentioned before — that’s the one group I would say, as a group and whole, that’s really difficult from that standpoint that you’ve got five guys that have to see the game through the same sets of eyes. So, there’s a lot of repetition, a lot of situations where you’re trying to put them in that sort of communication stressor so that they work through all of that."
No one should be racing to declare this the starting five for the regular season, but it wouldn't be unusual for the Lions to tip their hand on a vision during these May practices.
Three years ago, Riley Reiff was shifted over to right tackle to make room for rookie Taylor Decker on the blindside. The following year, it was again a veteran moved for a rookie, as Jarrad Davis displaced Tahir Whitehead at middle linebacker from the jump. And last year, Ragnow began the offseason at left guard, where he ended up starting during his rookie campaign, despite finishing his stellar college career as a center.
But center is a difficult spot for a rookie, adding a layer of communication responsibility to an already full plate that comes with adapting to life in the NFL. It made sense to play Ragnow at guard to start his career, just as the Lions did with Glasgow when he was a rookie.
With a year of experience for Ragnow, the team can comfortably seek out the best combination.
"This offensive line room is so unique, it's like there's five centers up front," Ragnow said. "Everybody is talking, everybody is communicating, so it's great."
Glasgow found comfort at the center spot last season, but he's a team player who will willingly move when asked.
"He’s got good, short-space quickness, which in the guard position is really good, especially against some of the quicker defensive tackles that we’re seeing nowadays," Patricia said. "When you’re a center, you’re the guy that’s usually directing the traffic between all five guys, so understanding that position helps him be a better guard and his ability to then communicate out to the tackles, and some of the protection looks is also real valuable from that standpoint.
"Real athletic guy, has that versatility and again, like I said, he’s a lot longer than you think. He has great length to him, which is good inside to keep those guys off of him.”
Perhaps the most curious element of the lineup combination is flipping Glasgow and Wiggins, away from the sides where they've each played the majority of their pro snaps.
"I've obviously played more right guard than left, but it really doesn't matter to me," Wiggins said. "It's just going out there and switching over in your mind, all the techniques and everything. I practice them both all the time."
Patricia, speaking generally about how teams view the two spots, said many teams prefer size and power on the right side and more athleticism on the left. And ultimately, it often boils down to the players' comfort playing in a right-handed or left-handed stance.
"It’s all part of the evaluation process as we go through that, but in the end, you’re just trying to find the five best out there that you can," Patricia said.
It remains to to be seen whether this will end up being the team's best five. As long as Ragnow and Glasgow remain healthy, they'll obviously start, it's just a matter of which spots. As for Wiggins, he'll need to fend off some challengers, namely Oday Aboushi and Joe Dahl.