For the first time in a long time, the Detroit Lions have developed some stability and continuity along the offensive line. In the midst of a coaching change, that means offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn must be the one staff member staying for continuity's sake itself, as well.
Wednesday, Larry Warford was named the Pro Football Focus offensive rookie of the year with a +22.8 grade. LaAdrian Waddle, an undrafted free agent offensive lineman, was an honorable mention. In addition to those two, the Lions have gotten solid contributions from second year man Riley Reiff and seen continuity with veterans like Rob Sims and Dominic Raiola.
The fact that the Lions developed two rookie offensive linemen, one who was an undrafted free agent, into major contributors warrants praise for Washburn. Since 1997, the Lions have tried and failed to develop their own offensive line in multiple ways. Picks such as Juan Roque, Aaron Gibson, Stockar McDougle, Kelly Butler, Jonathan Scott and Manny Ramirez all failed for the Lions. Sandwiched in were solid veterans like Jeff Backus and Raiola, but the Lions never operated from a position of enough quality depth to be successful.
Finally, in 2013, Detroit saw some depth after years of lacking it. Between Jason Fox, Dylan Gandy, Waddle, Rodney Austin, and Corey Hilliard, the Lions had players capable of stepping in at any time and playing well. All of those players were versatile and had different roles along the line. Drafting players like Backus and Raiola high will always net immediate starters, but the Lions could never mine gold in the middle rounds nor find anyone unheralded.
With Washburn, they've created what most NFL teams strive for, which is a true plug and play offensive line system. Find players in the middle rounds, discover a few undrafted free agents and coach them up. In that group, discover a starter like Warford, but mostly, find quality depth with players that can be interchanged and develop them into NFL caliber talents who can play multiple roles.
That Washburn has accomplished these feats in a year on the job in Detroit is nothing short of amazing considering the positional history within the franchise. The Lions have lacked consistency on the offensive line since the 1990s. Sending the coach packing who delivered those results in short time would be a disappointment, no matter who the Lions' new head coach ends up becoming.
In the constant game of musical chairs favoritism that is filling out an NFL staff, Detroit's new boss should be smart enough to look at both ancient and recent history to realize that keeping Washburn is the best choice that could be made.
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