Now an elder on this ever-changing offense, Matthew Stafford is recognizing the need to take some more leadership responsibilities. It’s hard to believe that he, Calvin Johnson, and Brandon Pettigrew are now among the oldest players on the offensive side of the ball. Furthermore, there is nowhere the youth movement is more evident than along the Lions’ offensive line.
The offensive line has gone from one of the NFL’s oldest, to one of the youngest in just a couple of seasons. Recent draft investments like Riley Reiff, Larry Warford, and Travis Swanson, replacing staples like Dominic Raiola and Rob Sims have dramatically changed the look of Stafford’s first line of defense.
This revamped line should prove especially beneficial to Stafford, who was sacked 45 times last season. That’s the most of his career with the Lions seeing about 1 of every 14 pass attempts ending with Stafford being pulled down for a loss of yardage and down. Imagine how much worse it could have been if he didn’t have one of the quickest releases in the league. The new guys upfront should not only help with pass protection, but vastly improve the ground game, which will also make things a bit easier on Stafford. This is clearly not lost on the veteran quarterback.
In an attempt to take some of the youngsters under his wing and build camaraderie, Stafford recently took his linemen to a Detroit Tigers game and a few dinners. This kind of off-field relationship building can sometimes pay dividends later in the year. Offensive lines usually work best when they are a cohesive unit, and the more time spent together, the closer to that goal they become. You know, kind of like in the movie, Necessary Roughness!
It’s about more than just close knit relationships though, and this new group appears to have plenty of talent to be excited about. Stafford, who seems impressed by the athleticism of the big men commented on the younger players on the offensive line.
“I kind of equate it to young running backs, you watch them run and they just have no regard for their body, they run hard, they play physical and I think O-line is the same way, it’s fun to watch these guys just move around, the athletic ability we have up there at this point is pretty awesome.’’
The 27-year-old quarterback also sounds more than ready to accept a larger leadership role given the relative youth of the offense. He spoke about the role he and the other veterans on the offense must adopt more heavily.
“It’s on us. We have new guys into the system, we have young guys, we have all sorts of new challenges in front of us it’s on us to carry the load and bring them along.’’
In addition to drafting Laken Tomlinson, the Lions also reacquired a veteran along the line’s interior in Manny Ramirez, who was originally drafted by the Lions in 2007. He went to the Denver Broncos in 2011, and for the last couple seasons was starting for the offense lead by Peyton Manning. Now back in Detroit, and able to play any of the three interior positions, he provides valuable depth, and may even be the starting center come September.
In addition to Ramirez, another possible addition to the line’s depth, which is a little light at the tackle positions, is Xavier Proctor. A defensive tackle on the practice squad each of the last two seasons, Proctor is making the switch to offensive tackle in an attempt to stick with the team. At 6-foot-6, 315 pounds, Proctor has ideal size for the position, which he played in high school, but has a lot of catching up to do if he hopes to remain with the team through training camp.
Since his rookie year, Stafford has been in a leadership role on this team, the fact that role continues to increase should only prove to be a good thing.