Everyone and their brother is excited about the Detroit Lions' potential for a balanced and explosive offense after the acquisition of running back Reggie Bush. It all makes perfect sense. What could go wrong?
One overlooked aspect, at least from a national perspective, is that the Lions will have a majority of new starters on the offensive line. Replacements for left tackle Jeff Backus, right tackle Gosder Cherilus and right guard Stephen Peterman won't be veteran free agents with years of experience. They will be former backups, spot starters and possibly a rookie as well.
The Lions have expressed confidence in their succession plan, although the details of it remain contingent on the draft and offseason competition. So I'll just say this: The Lions will have done an exceptional job in transition if they don't experience at least a few bumps from their offensive line in 2013.
"We have confidence in the guys that we've had there and that we've worked hard to develop," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said this week at the NFL owners meeting. "We've been prepared for it. Last year, if it had happened, we would have been prepared for it. We had what we considered good depth on our offensive line. It just wasn't tested. It didn't mean we weren't prepared for it to be. We've been comfortable with all of those guys."
To this point, however, the Lions aren't ready to start assigning positions to a group of starting candidates that includes Riley Reiff, Jason Fox, Corey Hilliard, Bill Nagy and Rodney Austin. Most notably, the Lions won't say if Reiff will play left tackle, the position he was drafted at last year, because he can also play right tackle and right guard.
In my experience, no teams consider using a true, genuine, franchise left tackle at another position. They are so difficult to find, and so unique in many ways, that it would make no sense to waste the qualities necessary to play there on a position that doesn't require them.
So that leaves us to draw one of two conclusions on Reiff: Either the Lions aren't convinced he is a long-term answer at left tackle or they don't want to tip their draft strategy by locking him in there publicly. As it stands now, the Lions could be in the market for one of the draft's blue chip left tackles with the No. 5 overall pick in next month's draft.
Lions general manager Martin Mayhew told reporters he "could see" Reiff playing left tackle this season but couldn't commit to that. Schwartz said Reiff's versatility makes him a candidate to play left tackle, right tackle or right guard.
"So it is a little bit in limbo I guess," Schwartz said. "But we're not practicing right now. It's not like he's being set back right now. It's not like we're spinning our wheels with him playing defensive line or something like that. All the guys right now are training and doing conditioning on their own."
If the Lions don't draft a left tackle in the first round, you would have to assume Reiff will open the season there. The dominoes should start falling next month.