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Monday, May 18, 2009
Lions' weakness: Line play

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

Posted by Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson

Finding weak spots on a team that failed to win a game last year is not all that difficult. When a new set of decision-makers took on the monumental task of rebuilding this sad franchise, it had to be assumed that Rome would not be built in a day. The Lions' roster is noticeably improved, but because there were so many areas to address -- for the short and the long term -- Detroit was unable to truly upgrade both lines of scrimmage. That is going to be a problem.

 
  Scott Boehm/Getty Images
  The Detroit Lions might be better served moving Jeff Backus from tackle to guard.

On offense, the former regime used a first-round pick last year on Gosder Cherilus. While he is strictly a right tackle and that does present bust potential in itself, he remains a strong candidate to hold down that position for the long term. He started slowly last year, and steadily improved, but still has a long way to go.

Opposite Cherilus is 31-year-old Jeff Backus. While he is far from the ideal left tackle -- and potentially could be better off at guard because of his stature -- the Lions could live with both him and center Dominic Raiola if they were to come up with at least one stud at the guard position (and preferably two). However, finding a franchise left tackle would be the far better solution. Detroit did sign Daniel Loper from the Tennessee Titans. It is conceivable that he plays well enough in camp on the left side to move Backus to guard. There really isn't any way around it though; the Lions probably will need to find a pair of starting offensive linemen during next offseason.

On defense, Jim Schwartz wants big-bodied defensive tackles to dominate the interior and open up room for the linebackers to attack. The ends preferably are dangerous upfield pass-rushers. When he has an ideal front four in place -- as he did with the Titans -- Schwartz tends to drop seven into coverage with faith in his front four to get after the passer. That will be tough to pull off with his present crew.

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At defensive tackle, the Lions may have gotten a short-term fix by signing Grady Jackson, but at 36 years old and with his immense size, counting on him for a ton of snaps each game cannot be recommended. However, Detroit does hope that he can bridge the gap to the incredibly raw Sammie Lee Hill, a massive interior player with good movement skills from tiny Stillman College. Hill is going to take time, though. Chuck Darby is also a short-term fix and in all reality, more of a rotational player than starting material. That is about all there is to speak of inside, and it wouldn't shock me if the Lions' first-round selection in the 2010 draft was a defensive tackle. Schwartz is going to miss his time with Albert Haynesworth in a big way.

There are some serviceable ends in this group and second-year player Cliff Avril does have upside as a situational pass-rusher, but overall this unit lacks that one every-down headliner who forces opponents to alter their pass-protection schemes to keep him in check. Dewayne White is solid, but not spectacular, in just about all areas and should be a fine second end if the Lions can eventually acquire a difference-maker.

That will have to be next year's project, along with acquiring plenty more able big bodies on both sides of the line. Winning in the NFL is nearly impossible with subpar line play. But it's going to take time to rebuild those lines.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.