Lions offensive line off to good start on first day in pads

On the first day in pads at Lions training camp on Monday, the offensive line made a few knock-down plays that had the fans oohing and ahhing.

In one set of one-on-one drills against the defensive line, the offensive guys showed their stuff on each matchup.

“You put the pads on, it’s real football, I’m very confident in our O-line going one on one matchups with anyone. That being said, I think our D-line is going to be really good this year,’’ left tackle Taylor Decker said. “You saw Charles Harris come on last year, he’s picked up right where he left ott. He’s a beast, he’s a really good player, he’s a super high effort all the time. I think as Aidan (Hutchinson) learns you’re going to see him — he loves to ball, he’s into it, he loves to learn. It’s going to make both groups better.’’

A year ago, the offensive line also looked to be a strength but due to injuries there was never a game where all five starters played. Not one game.

Now they’re back and healthy. Decker sat out Saturday as a precaution due to his foot injury last year but on Monday he said it’s fine.

“I think we expect every single guy on the offensive line to play at a high high level at their position, whatever that means as far as accolades I don’t know. You come out here every single day and you try to get better as an individual, you’re going to help the guard next to you, then you’re going to help the unit, then you’re going to help the offense, then you’re going to help the team,’’ Decker said.

They expect much out of themselves. Decker and right tackle Penei Sewell both noted how going against the Lions defensive line – including Harris and rookie Aidan Hutchinson – will help make them better.

“It benefits me a lot to see those two guys. Charles came in and shocked the world (last year).. I didn’t really know who he was, he’s a beast,’’ Sewell said. “To have Aidan follow that type of guy that makes him better and I’m following Deck. It’s kind of the same thing back and forth. Iron sharpens iron, everyone knows that.’’

Sewell, who flattened cornerback Jeff Okudah in one drill on Monday, is entering his second season and feels more comfortable since he knows his teammates so well now. They’re a tight-knit group as is typical for most offensive lines.

“That chemistry too makes my job way easier out there. I know what to expect. The speed is way slower, everything is not coming at me 1,000 mph, everyone is normal speed and I like it,’’ Sewell said,

Perhaps the most growth is expected from Sewell who is making the jump from year one to year two.

“I think I’ll know more as we get more padded practices. One thing me and him have talked about as far as just keeping the width of the pocket, just setting aggressive, being confident on your sets and changing up your sets. That’s something as I’ve gotten older I’ve done a lot more of. It might be third-and-10 but I’m going to jump set this guy because he’s not expecting it,’’ Decker said.

Along with Decker and Sewell, other offensive line starters are expected to be Frank Ragnow at center, Jonah Jackson at left guard and Vaitai Halapoulivaati at right guard.

“Our excitement is through the roof. We know what we’re capable., everyone knows what we’re demanding out of each and everyone of us in the room,’’ Sewell said. “The sky’s the limit, only we can control that and how far we can go.’’

Lions O-line potential sky-high, just ask D’Andre Swift

No doubt, months away from opening day the Lions offensive line has the potential to be one of the league’s best. 

Of course, there’s a big if. Unlike last season, can they stay healthy?

Lions running back D’Andre Swift said it crosses his mind at least once a day about what could happen next season if the offensive line remains healthy.

The line is set up so that GM Brad Holmes doesn’t need to draft an offensive lineman to make it work.

While all five “starters” O-line starters never played in one game last season, they are healthy and, of course, optimism radiates. It’s that time of year.

“I said it last year, I’m going to stand on it. I think we can be the best in the league, I know we can be the best in the league. We just have to come out to work everyday,’’ left guard Jonah Jackson said.

Projected starters from last year will all return with left tackle Taylor Decker, left guard Jonah Jackson, center Frank Ragnow, right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai and right tackle Penei Sewell (last year’s first-round draft pick).

Due to a slew of injuries they never played in one game together. Decker missed the first six games, Ragnow played in the first four and then hurt his foot and missed the rest of the season.

The good news is that Ragnow is back and participating in offseason workouts which started this week.

“I think being hurt, that was horrible. You just gain a lot of respect for dudes who have had to deal with injuries. It’s a gut-wrenching, man you really don’t realize. Obviously you’re still part of the team but you don’t really feel part of the team,’’ Ragnow said on Thursday.

“When you’re out on the field on Sundays and you’re in your gear, you’re like a gladiator. I’m walking out there in a T-shirt and shorts walking around, it’s a humbling feeling,’’ he added.

Sewell was one of last season’s highlights.He spent training camp at right tackle but when Decker went down before the first game he shifted to the left and did a respectable job.

“He looks the same. He’s a freak show. He’s still a freak show,’’ Ragnow said of Sewell. “Big, strong kid, great energy.”

Having the same guys return is huge.

“Obviously, we would love to all stay healthy, just off-the-field wise and mentally chemistry wise people don’t understand how big that is for offensive lines in particular,’’ Ragnow said. “You have to really know how these guys think, trust these guys and the relationships we’ve developed over five years with me and Taylor and the other guys trickling in here.’’

Five keys from Lions GM Brad Holmes one week before the draft

Of course Brad Holmes is not giving away his draft strategy. Still the Lions general manager, who is entering his second draft with the team, shared a few insights one week before the NFL draft.

The Lions have two first-round picks (No. 2 and 32) when the draft kicks off at 8 p.m. on Thursday, April 28. Overall they have eight picks over the three-day event.

“Right now, we’re in a good place. There are still things that are fluid here and there, there is still some new information coming in as we speak. But we’re confident in our process up to this point,’ Holmes said at a pre-draft press conference on Thursday.

Even though Holmes had a decent draft a year ago, the Lions are coming off a three-win season. That point can’t be overlooked. The team was young and due to injuries many younger players got thrown into the fire. Some found success, others got a little singed but could be better for the experience.

He would not rule out taking a quarterback with the No. 2 pick, insisting he is looking for a game-changer at that pick and every pick. “So, if that position is a quarterback, then it’s a quarterback. Just because often, it’s been slated that, well, picking up there, it’s either going to be a quarterback or a pass rusher or a tackle and all that type of stuff. But look, I said from Day One, give me a game-changer at any position, and there are multiple positions where we do see that potential game-changers could be there in the future,” Holmes said. “Time will tell of course however they develop.”

Five of the key highlights from Holmes on Thursday:

1. With the second overall pick, it’s not just a matter of nailing down his top two prospects. “Anything can happen (on) any day, I will say that. But it’s not just narrowing it down to your top two. You better have your top five. You better have your top 10 in place because you just don’t know what’s going to happen each day,’’ Holmes said. “We do have it narrowed down, and we feel confident where we’re at with how we have it pared down. We’ll just let the process unfold.”

2. He is confident that Dan Campbell and the coaching staff can once again prepare rookies for Sundays in the NFL.  “Like I said, we’re very fortunate and we’re very blessed, and to get into position to have a coaching staff that has a passion of developing, and the proof’s in the pudding. It’s proven; they’ve actually done it. So, it gives you a lot of optimism,’’ Holmes said. Last year’s top pick, right tackle Penei Sewell, was a starter from the get-go. But the staff also got several rookies to contribute including linebacker Derrick Barnes (fourth round) who started six games and played in 17  and wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown (fourth round) who also started six games and played in all 17.

3. Holmes and his scouting staff aim to find the right balance for a prospect between his college production and potential. “You can’t ignore production, but you’ve also got to look at those critical factors of the actual player. Is he doing everything in his power, does he have the skillset, does he have the traits to do certain things? Does he have the football character? There’s a lot of different factors that can come in that can project to more production when they get into the NFL. How were they used in their scheme in college versus what our scheme is going to be? There’s a lot of different factors that go into that, but you definitely can’t ignore the actual production because that’s real (and) factual,’’ Holmes said.

4. While no one will downplay the importance of the draft, last year Holmes was able to work undrafted prospects like cornerbacks Jerry Jacobs and A.J. Parker into the lineup. That fact could play into draft-weekend decisions. “It just gives you confidence that we were able to identify some of those guys. Being that those guys have a year under their belt, they carry that invaluable experience that they have and that play time into this year. So, yeah, absolutely. It kind of affects a little bit how you look at it, like you can’t forget about those guys. It gets you excited about what those guys are going to be this year coming up,’’ Holmes said.

5. Holmes and coach Dan Campbell proved last season that they don’t look at pedigree or draft credentials when it comes time to getting the best players on the field. “Dan and I have always said you can call us the land of opportunity, but we don’t care where you come from. … If you step in this building, you’ve got an opportunity to compete and it doesn’t matter where you come from. You can talk about meritocracy, in the sense of whoever’s the best is the best. Well, that’s kind of how we approach it because of undrafted free agents.”