For the first time since 2001 the Detroit Lions enter the regular season without Dominic Raiola manning the center of the offensive line.
The Lions opted to part ways with Raiola after last season, in part, because they were comfortable handing the reigns of the starting center position over to 2014 third-round draft pick Travis Swanson.
Swanson enters his sophomore season in the NFL having the advantages of playing 379 snaps as a rookie, including starting at Center for the regular season finale against the Green Bay Packers. He was able to take that experience into his first full offseason as a professional football player.
“I think I had a good kind of list in my head of what I thought I did well during the season and what I thought I could build on or work on this past offseason,” Swanson told Lionsreport.com. “Kind of took that and had my trainer, back in Arkansas that I went to and focused on everything. Really wasn’t just one specific thing, even though I had a few things picked out in my head. I’ve always been a firm believer that if you focus on one thing, everything else is going to digress.”
The trainer Swanson worked with is Arkansas strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert, who has gained notoriety for his effective training techniques. He has worked with several players en route to the NFL, including Houston Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt.
The hard work and preparation on Swanson’s end should pay dividends for him as he occupies an often dismissed but largely important role on the offense.
“Well, really, we anticipate he’s going to a very, very vital part of what we’re doing up front,” said head coach Jim Caldwell earlier in the offseason program. “Right now he’s the apex of our offense, and that’s a very, very important position because he sets everything for us. Echoing maybe the calls by the quarterback, but then also making adjustments quickly as well. He kind of handles that whole operation. He certainly has the intelligence to do it, and now we just need to add the experience level along with it as well. He played quite a bit for us last year, so he’s had some experience both at guard and at center, so that’s helpful.”
The 24-year-old Swanson was benefited from having a year to learn from Raiola, who helped prep the young offensive lineman to take over for him.
“I can’t even begin to explain how much (Raiola) helped me with things kind of on and off the field,” said Swanson. “Coming into a position like that, it worked out. It was unbelievable, I wouldn’t have written it any other way.”
Raiola was often underappreciated amongst Lions fans but his impact on Swanson shouldn’t be underestimated.
“I think him being around Dom for that year was really good for him,” said right tackle LaAdrian Waddle. “Dom was a wiz, man. Dom could call out protections and see stuff that most guys couldn’t see. I think Travis picked up some stuff from that. He’s handling his business on and off the field. He studies hard, he prepares hard and he’s been out there performing well. Hopefully he just keeps that going.”
Swanson will be the starter in the middle of the line when the Lions travel to San Diego to open their season. That won’t change his level of preparation, though.
“Last year I knew, even though I was kind of the swing guy, that I was always just one play away from being the next man up. I always put pressure on myself as if I was the starter,” said Swanson. “I don’t think there is too much of a difference between last year or this year except for the fact that I’ll be out there on the first play of the game as opposed to potentially the second play of the game.”