Detroit Lions Position Battles: Offensive Line

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As the NFL preseason continues along, there are sure to be surprise performers, as well as performances that don’t live up to expectations. All of these performances lead to the culmination of the final roster.

We’re still three weeks away from the conclusion of the preseason, but the question that follows all 32 teams through the early portion of the return of football is simple: what will my team’s roster look like?

We here at DSN have the same question, therefore we’ll be breaking down each position battle for the Detroit Lions, as well as projecting what the final roster will look like. We’ve already covered the battle in the receiving core and at quarterback, and we still need to cover all other position battles before Week 1.

This publication will feature the battle for roster spots on the offensive line.

CANDIDATES

Greg RobinsonGraham GlasgowTravis SwansonTJ LangRick WagnerLaken TomlinsonCyrus KouandjioCornelius LucasLeo KoloamatangiBrandon ThomasMatt RotheramStorm NortonNick Becton

Injured: Taylor DeckerCorey Robinson

TJ Lang
Sep 11, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Green Bay Packers guard T.J. Lang (70) looks at the field during the first half of a football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

After the offseason makeover, some thought the talent and depth present in the trenches would (dare I say it…) actually make the offensive line an actual strength of the team. Adding TJ Lang and Rick Wagner definitely created a better outlook for the line, but the loss of Taylor Decker to a torn labrum tempered those expectations a bit.

Decker will start the regular season on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list, which creates an opportunity for someone else to step up at left tackle. Among those who will compete for the spot are recently acquired linemen Greg Robinson and Cyrus Kouandjio, as well as long shots Joe Dahl and Cornelius Lucas.

Kouandjio, the No. 44 overall pick in the 2014 draft, is likely a favorite to land the job. According to Pro Football Focus, Kouandjio played 383 snaps at left tackle with the Buffalo Bills last season, and only allowed one sack on 207 passing plays. He finished the season with an overall grade of 76.7 from PFF, the highest mark among backup offensive linemen in the league.

The other end of the offensive line is a lock. Ricky Wagner, who signed a monstrous five-year contract this offseason, projects to be the team’s right tackle for the foreseeable future.

There is not much of a battle to speak of at center, as Travis Swanson is likely to continue snapping the ball for the Lions. Leo Koloamatangi, an undrafted free agent center from the University of Hawaii, has taken a number of snaps with the second-team offense throughout the off-season. Though he is likely not an immediate threat to the starting job, he could be kept on the roster as a potential replacement at center when Swanson’s contract is up after the season.

A spot on the practice squad is the more likely scenario for Koloamatangi. Second-year lineman Graham Glasgow also had experience at center in college but was easily bested by Glasgow in last year’s battle. Glasgow is slated in at guard this season.

The team’s other prize signing, T.J. Lang, has been used very methodically this offseason while recovering from hip surgery. Although he did not play in the preseason opener last weekend, head coach Jim Caldwell has indicated that he has not suffered a setback in his recovery. He is slated to begin the regular season at right guard.

Joe Dahl and Laken Tomlinson, who are both under contract through at least the 2018-19 season, are also likely to make the team out of camp. Although neither is likely to start immediately this season, both will likely see rotational time. Both are regarded as having high ceilings, but neither has lived up to their initial billing to this point. Tomlinson, who is entering his third season after being selected with the team’s first round pick (28th overall) in the 2015 draft, is likely in a make-or-break season. If he doesn’t win a starting job this season, it’s likely that the team will try and move on from him after the season.

Brandon Thomas, who was acquired from the San Francisco 49ers before last season, was cut shortly after the trade. He has found his way back to Allen Park, but likely doesn’t figure into the team’s plans for the season.

The same can be said for Matt Rotheram and Nick Becton. Storm Norton (right), who was brought in as an undrafted free agent, created an initial buzz during minicamp. Brought in to create a competition at left tackle after Decker’s injury, Norton saw plenty of time with the first team throughout the summer. But, Kouandjio has taken some of the buzz away from Norton. He is a practice squad candidate.

FINAL PROJECTION

The question is whether the team will keep nine or 10 offensive linemen in the wake of Decker’s absence. Wagner, Lang, Swanson, Glasgow, Kouandjio, and Greg Robinson are all likely locks for spots. Tomlinson, Dahl, and Lucas are all a step below being considered “locks”, although the team would have quite the puzzle on its hand if any one of those three were not on the roster.

The final question remaining is whether or not Koloamatangi makes the team or joins the practice squad. My projection is that the team will initially run with nine offensive linemen, leaving Koloamatangi as the odd man out. Obviously, this will change when Decker returns.