Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit  |  Last updated 7/11/13
You can collect all the weapons at the skill positions you want, from Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson to Reggie Bush. They're exciting toys, but it won't matter in the end if you don't protect the quarterback and open up lanes for the running game. The biggest key to the Detroit Lions' season - bigger thaneven a potentiallyimproveddefense - centers on a revamped offensive front. This team is stillbuilt to win with a high-powered, prolificoffense despite not living up to that standard while ending 2012 on an eight-game losing streak. The O-linemen went intolast season boasting about the continuity they'd developed from playing together for a couple years. They talked about how that experience as a group is so crucial to an offensive line's success. Training camp opens in two weeks and that continuity is gone. The Lions will have to try to redevelop it on the fly. Rob Sims returns at left guard, Dominic Raiola likely will be the starting center for the 12th straight year, but the other three spots must be replaced. Left tackle Jeff Backus retired, right guard Stephen Peterman got released and right tackle Gosder Cherilus wasn't re-signed. They weren't great by any means, but it remains to be seen whether the Lions will be better without them. "We have a young group, a lot of inexperienced guys, but we have an athletic group," said Jason Fox, 25, who will compete for the starting job at right tackle. "I think a lot of guys have been waiting to play. It's exciting. We're going to bring a lot of energy." The spotlight will be on Riley Reiff, who is expected totake over forBackus and protect Stafford's blind side. Reiff was a first-round draft pick last year and did a solid job as a rookie while being used frequently in a special package where he served as a sixth offensive lineman. The heat will be turned up now, though. As Raiola said, Backus had to block "the best guy on the field every week." Is Reiff ready for that? "I think so," Raiola said. "Why not? If you want to be a left tackle, if you want to be a good one, this is what you want." When asked about Reiff taking over such an important position, Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan said, "That was a role we envisioned for him. We feel really, really confident in his ability to do a great job for us." Still, there's some unknown because Reiff hasn't had to face the elite pass-rushers in the league week after week. IfReiff isn'tready for it, the Lions will be in trouble. Meanwhile, on the other side, Fox's competition comes from Corey Hilliard, 28, who started four games in 2010 and one in 2011 but then was inactiveall 16 weekslast year because of Reiff's emergence. Fox, a fourth-round draft pick by the Lions in 2010, has played in five gamesover the last three years, with no starts. This is the first time he's been healthy and could seriously compete for an open job. At right guard, there's a logjam of candidates. It's led by Larry Warford, this year's third-round draft pick out of Kentucky. Returning reserves Dylan Gandy, Bill Nagy and Rodney Austin also are in the mix, along with two off-season additions in veterans Jake Scott (Philadelphia) and Leroy Harris (Tennessee). "It's not a total new group," Raiola said. "But this off-season has been important. Playing together in the preseason is going to be important. It will just mesh together. That's how offensive lines do it." Sims added: "It still feels the same even though we're missing those guys (Backus, Peterman and Cherilus) because these guys (Reiff, Fox, Hilliard, etc.) have been around here." The quarterback insists hehasfaith in his new-look line. "I think we're extremely talented up front," Stafford said. "I know these guys are going to come in and do everything they can to be right and I'm going to help them every step of the way that I can." His health - and the team's success - is dependent on it.
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