If there's one thing that can slow down the Detroit Lions potentially high octane offense this season, it is the offensive line.
Any offense obviously relies upon its line for protection, and considering the additions Detroit has made in the off-season to bolster its offensive production, a strong effort will be required in the trenches.
Luckily, it is a group that draws little worry from quarterback Joey Harrington, or head coach Steve Mariucci.
"They did terrific —- a terrific job," said Harrington, regarding his offensive line in 2003. "The offensive line has never been an issue to me. Someone told me that no one in league history has been sacked fewer times with at least 1,000 attempts."
"I think I've been sacked 18 times in two years. (Houston Texans QB) David Carr was sacked 75 times in one season, and now I'm going into year three and I'm at 18. They've done a terrific job for my entire time here."
Despite a shake-up on the line during the off-season, the team will return a strong cast that can puncture holes on opposing defenses.
Gone are starting guards Ray Brown (retirement) and Eric Beverly (free-agency), but the return of starting tackles Jeff Backus and Stockar McDougle -- both former 1st round picks -- and fourth-year center Dominic Raiola hands the unit talent and experience at vital positions.
To replace Brown, the Lions signed free-agent prize Damien Woody, an important ingredient to the 2001 and 2003 Super Bowl champion Patriots. Fellow free-agent acquisition David Loverne and Matt Joyce will determine the starter at left guard.
"Raiola and Stockar McDougle, who have been starting here (are) becoming veteran like and they're experienced and then they're growing up and they're becoming really good players," said head coach Steve Mariucci. "Damien Woody was a great acquisition. He helps, he fits right in. He's good in the huddle, on the line of scrimmage and in the locker room. Then we've got some competition at the left guard spot with David Loverne and Matt Joyce and we have to see how that sorts out.
"I like that offensive line – it's a good bunch. We have to determine who the depth will be. The only place that we were lucky with our health last year is our offensive line stuck together so hopefully it will be like that again."
Which would be the only concern the Lions might have on the offensive line: depth. Without incumbent back-up Tony Semple, only recent free-agent pick-up Solomon Page has the most experience under his belt, and the six-year veteran's progress has been less than appealing. Behind Page and the reserve left guard, no other lineman is a lock to even make the roster, and even Page's status is dwindling.
As cuts start to become common-place across NFL rosters, the Lions will likely be fishing to fortify the depth on the offensive line. Until then, the hope is that the starting group will remain healthy.
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