'Iron sharpens iron': Lions' offensive, defensive lines building each other up

Nolan Bianchi
The Detroit News

Allen Park — There was a theme at Lions training camp on Monday.

With pads going on for the first time this year, Detroit's offensive and defensive linemen couldn't help but use that old cliché: "Iron sharpens iron."

But, to be fair, it's a cliché because it's true. And the supposed strength of Detroit's team, its offensive line, sure seemed to be whipping the young defensive line into shape.

Second-year defensive tackle Alim McNeill was the first to fire off a compliment toward the group he was competing against, calling the trio of Frank Ragnow, Jonah Jackson and Halapoulivaati Vaitai "as good as it gets" on the interior offensive line.

"I have to go against them three every play, so yeah, I expect myself to be pretty good this year," McNeill said. "If you get a double from them, you're gonna get a double, so yeah, that's as good as it gets."

McNeill singled out Ragnow, a second-team All-Pro center in 2020 who is lined up across from McNeill on every snap.

"Frank is that good. I really can't explain it, to be honest with you. Frank is just that good," McNeill said. "He's able to move his body, he's strong in different awkward positions. He's able to get you turned sometimes, so when I'm out there, I'm really having to work on my technique, like really, really having to work.

"You do that anyway, but against a guy like Frank, if you slip up or you're a little bit too late this way or that way, it's over with. You can hang it up."

Lions defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson, left, goes against Charles Harris during drills.

Since the spring, the Lions have been in what they call "pajamas." There's plenty to take away from what's going on at the second level — wide receivers versus defensive backs, tight ends versus linebackers — in that setting. But until the pads go on, it's simply hard to get a read on what's going on in the trenches.

"It's real football now," offensive tackle Taylor Decker said. "I was telling the guys out there, we come out here, we gotta start fast. Don't get discouraged if your technique is not there. If you mess something up — mental errors we can't have, but 'Oh, my hand wasn't right on this one,' we'll fix that. I just don't want anyone getting discouraged because the energy around here is really good right now."

And for what it's worth, the two units seem to take a lot of pride in building each other up.

Decker said that Detroit's leading sack-getter from a season ago, Charles Harris, "picked up right where he left off." He added that rookie defensive end Aidan Hutchinson battling with second-year tackle Penei Sewell is an example of the Lions having "a lot of young athletes that can fly around, so it's going to make both groups better."

"I'm very confident in our O-line one-on-one matchups against anybody. That being said, I think our D-line is going to be really good this year," Decker said. "So, it's going to be good for both groups to work against each other to make each other better."

Sewell echoed Decker's comments, saying that "it benefits me a lot to see" Hutchinson and Harris in practice.

"Charles comes in and shocked the world almost. I didn't really know who he was, but man, he's a beast. He's a beast," Sewell said. "And to have Aidan follow that kind of guy, man, that just makes him better. I'm obviously following Deck, and it's the same kind of thing back and forth.

"Iron sharpens iron. Everyone knows that, and that's all I got to say."

nbianchi@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @nolanbianchi