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Detroit Lions Positional Recap, Offensive Line and Tight End: Rookie Performers Step Up

February 17th, 2014 at 10:13 AM
By Max DeMara

Every Monday/Tuesday during the winter, we're taking a closer look back at the progression of every position on the Detroit Lions during the 2013 season.

Over time, the Detroit Lions have been maligned for plenty, but most consistently for not developing a competent offensive line. During the 2013 season, that finally looked to change, as Detroit's front line protected Matthew Stafford effectively but allowed the running game to show well.

'Detroit Lions vs Minnesota Vikings 2012/09/30' photo (c) 2012, kdoebler@att.net - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Offensively, the tight ends combined for nine touchdown catches and 647 yards, which was a decent amount. What will their contributions be next year? Can the offensive line get any better? Considering their age, that's a wise bet. Here's a look at Detroit's big uglies.

1. Larry Warford, G. It's only fair to start at the top with Warford, who was one of the top rookies last year. Drafted in the third round, Warford did everything a rookie should do and then some. He was rock solid as a rookie starter, made few mistakes and penalties and kept his nose clean on and off the field. He even graded out as the PFF rookie of the year and a top performer at guard, which was a phenomenal accomplishment.

  • Will He Stay? Without question.
  • 2014 Outlook: Expect Warford to continue to play well and evolve his game further as he matures. Warford looks to be a future long term all-pro guard for the Lions.

2. Dominic Raiola, C. Quietly, Raiola played the best center of his career last year, and kept the off-field and press room nonsense to a minimum, as well. For this, he was rewarded with a new contract. A gritty, hard-nosed competitor, Raiola is a stabilizer at center and is rarely injured. Other than Warford, he is the most consistent Lions' lineman.

  • Will He Stay? Certainly. Raiola has already been awarded a new one year deal, so he'll be back. What is still unknown is if the Lions will begin to groom his replacement now or later.
  • 2014 Outlook: Considering his play has been stable and rarely changed, count on Raiola to have a similar season. Unless he 

3. Rob Sims, G. Sims turned 30 but didn't see his play lack any. He did a fine job tutoring Warford, who looked as solid as Sims usually does at left guard. Considering age and salary cap concerns, Sims could be on the bubble as soon as this offseason, especially if the Lions seem convinced they could find another Warford in the middle rounds of the draft. Still, if Sims stays, count on him to play solid football.

  • Will He Stay? Likely, but still unknown. The Lions have made a few surprising cuts already, so if they feel they could get younger and cheaper at the position while finding more cap flexibility for other moves, cutting Sims would be a possibility. He's probably the only lineman somewhat on the bubble.
  • 2014 Outlook: Even if it's not with Detroit, Sims should remain steady at the position and look the part of a solid contributor well into the future.

4. Riley Reiff, T. A major concern for Detroit entering last season was the retirement of Jeff Backus and the advancement of Reiff, an offensive tackle who was selected in the previous draft. Reiff quietly answered the questions by playing a solid sophomore season in his own right. After bouncing around from tackle to guard, Reiff found a home and produced solid results in a starting role.

  • Will He Stay? Certainly. Reiff is a solid young contributor and the Lions will be excited to see what he can do with a full second season under his belt.
  • 2014 Outlook: There's no reason to think that Reiff won't continue to 

5. LaAdrian Waddle, T. For many years, fans have waited for the Lions to mine offensive line gold on the undrafted free agent market to no avail. Finally, the seal on that was broken this past season with the advancement of Waddle, who grabbed a starting job and didn't let go. 

  • Will He Stay? Certainly. Considering age, the Lions won't want to let go of a player who showed tenacity and intensity quick.
  • 2014 Outlook: Since Waddle grabbed the job and didn't let go, count on him to stick in the lineup and continue to make a solid impact. Making an NFL team as a rookie free agent takes competency and gumption and Waddle looks to be full of both, meaning it's not wise to bet on him allowing himself to be replaced.

6. Brandon Pettigrew, TE. Pettigrew continued his struggles early in the season with fumbles and key drops, but managed to push through and finish his season relatively strong with 441 yards. That finish was badly needed for Pettigrew, considering his impending free agent status and Joseph Fauria emerged as a red zone threat with sure hands. Pettgrew has solid big play potential and holds his own as a blocker, but will the Lions gamble on him turning things around long term for big money? It might not be a wise idea.

  • Will He Stay? Unlikely, but still unknown. The Lions are saying all the right things about Pettigrew, but chances are for a team in need of creative salary management, he could be replaced by a rookie or cheaper free agent and have his statistics either matched or exceeded. Anyone interested in Jimmy Graham that strikes out might also be motivated to overpay Pettigrew, as well.
  • 2014 Outlook: Pettigrew will remain a middle of the pack tight end who struggles with drops and fumbles. That gene is hard to break in football, no matter how much work is put in.

7. Joseph Fauria, TE. Faruia burst on the scene immediately in 2013, hauling in touchdown after touchdown while making a name for himself with catchy dance moves. His size allowed him to catch seven touchdown passes and 207 yards, and might allow him to impersonate Graham in Detroit's new offense under Joe Lombardi. Can Fauria block? In 2014, he will need to show himself as more than just a red zone threat in order to take the next step.

  • Will He Stay? Certainly. The Lions will like Fauria's youth, size and big play potential. The only question: Will Fauria have enough to become the consistent starter?
  • 2014 Outlook: Expect Fauria's yardage to increase as he finds a bigger role in the offense. The Lions will add another tight end, but will depend on more from Fauria than just red zone touchdowns in a starting role.

Next week, we'll shift our focus to the defensive side of the ball with a look at the tough defensive line, which continued to harass the quarterback and snuffed out opposing running games surprisingly well in 2013.

Max DeMara is the managing editor of Lions 101. You can find him on this site's Twitter @detroitlions101

Tags: Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit, Detroit Lions, Dominic Raiola, Football, Joseph Fauria, Larry Warford, NFL, Riley Reiff, Rob Sims

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