Lions Rookies Reiff, Broyles Having Impact

When the Detroit Lions spent their first two draft picks on an offensive tackle and wide receiver in April many questioned the logic. Lately, however, Riley Reiff and Ryan Broyles have come in handy -- and their roles are likely to expand as the season progresses. More inside ...

ALLEN PARK -- When the Detroit Lions spent their first two draft picks on an offensive tackle and wide receiver many questioned the logic.

The Lions had – what many believed to be – significant needs in the defensive backfield and adding Riley Reiff and Ryan Broyles did nothing to address those.

The critics seemed to receive some validation as both Reiff and Broyles played sparingly to start the season, in fact Broyles wasn't activated until Week 3 and played a total of 30 offensive snaps (out of a potential 261) in his first three games.

It doesn't take long for things to change in the NFL.

The Lions primary slot receiver, Nate Burleson, broke his leg against the Chicago Bears and was forced onto the season-ending Injured Reserve list, thrusting Broyles into action.

Broyles got off to a rocky start, when quarterback Matthew Stafford signaled to him that he wanted to change a play against the Bears. Broyles, who had his eyes locked on the defender he was matched up with, didn't see the signal and ran the wrong route.

"He was giving me a hot read and I was already locked on my guy," said Broyles. "Just a little missed communication, over time with more reps that we get together, we can clean those things up."

Showing some poise, Broyles bounced back from the mishap and finished the game with three receptions on four targets for 51 yards and a touchdown.

Broyles, who is coming off a significant ACL tear that he suffered in 2011 with the Oklahoma Sooners, says he's feeling "good" physically and that his touchdown catch helped boost his confidence.

His coaches are happy as well.

"First of all, he looked healthy. He's as close to 100 percent he's been since his injury," said offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. "He looked like (the game) wasn't too big for him, looked like he just picked up and was playing his senior year in Oklahoma. Fast, getting open."

Broyles isn't the only rookie finding his way onto the field.

The Lions top pick, Reiff, hasn't been able to crack a starting five on the offensive line but he's proven too valuable to leave on the bench.

Reiff has dressed for every game but played in only nine snaps over his first four games, however, the team has increased his workload and he's been on the field for 36 plays over the last two weeks.

"Obviously Riley is a pretty talented and gifted guy," said center Dominic Raiola. "It's big for him to get on the field right now, eventually he's going to be a starter here, that's what we drafted him for. Who knows when and where. I think that's big for him now because later on it's going to pay dividends because when he does get on the field, he's going to make him feel that much more comfortable, get the (nervousness) out. He's playing in big games for us, these are games we need to win. I think it'll pay off for us later in the same."

Reiff has come in as an extra lineman, sometimes taking the place of a tight end. One play where his value was evident was during a first-down run, where he lined up as an H-Back on the left side of the line. On the play, Lions running back Mikel Leshoure ran a counter, starting towards Reiff's side and then taking off in the other direction. The counter allowed Reiff to take out Bears defensive end Julius Peppers and spring Leshoure for a double-digit gain.

A play like that shows why Reiff's value on the field can – at times – be greater than that of a tight end.

"We block, that's what we do," said Raiola of offensive lineman. "Put our head down, we mole, we dig, we're nasty, we don't catch passes. When he comes in the game, he's an extra run blocker to me. That's not taking anything away from tight ends because they do a hell of a job blocking too but it's a different position because we don't catch passes, we don't have any pass catching responsibility. "(Reiff is) strictly a blocker and I think it's a huge advantage for us."

The Lions may have drafted Broyles and Reiff to be part of the future, but it is clear they are part of the present as well.

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