Position Battles: Offensive Line

Monday, July 20, 2009

Continuing our discussion of players fighting for both starting jobs as well as roster spots we come to one of the more interesting positions with the offensive line. Four starting positions seem fairly secure, five counting Brandon Pettigrew at TE (a position we will also discuss today) and some order may be coming to the line that has lacked continuity for years. The remainder of the roster spots will provide opportunities for competition among the remaining players on the roster. There is one center on the roster with NFL experience and only three guards listed, one who hasn't played in the NFL in three years and another who is no way guaranteed to make the team. With six tackles vying for backup spots it is pretty clear that flexibility will be one of the guiding determinants. Detroit is likely to carry 9-10 offensive linemen into the season.

The Offensive Line


Manny Ramirez. If not for the lack of other options at guard he would probably be considered a longshot to make the team. Third year player out of Texas Tech he was one of the strongest players in his draft and one of the smarter players on his team, but so far has been unable to force himself into an otherwise weak rotation at guard with only five games (three starts) in his first two years. This has to be considered a make-or-break camp for Ramirez.

Daniel Loper. Probably the surest bet to make the roster and a somewhat likely starter. Was a regular backup for 40 consecutive games with the Titans after sitting for his first year and a half, although he did start the Titans' '07 playoff game against San Diego. Tough line to crack there with two All Pros and two other multiyear starters. Has extensive experience at guard and tackle.

Damion Cook. Another player with fairly extensive experience at both guard and tackle. Detroit signed him out of the CFL after his early NFL career petered out. Adequate player who may not provide enough value at any one position to secure a roster spot but who also has the potential to win the remaining starting spot. It's that type of year.

Ephraim Salaam. Nine year starter for four different teams, '08 was his first season exclusively in a reserve role. At this point in his career he is strictly a backup tackle who might start in a pinch.

Jon Jansen. Another player who is likely to make the roster, has reportedly gotten some practice at center. He's been exclusively a starting RT his entire career and it is possible that he fights Cherilus for playing time, and seems determined to prove that Washington made a mistake in cutting him.


Dylan Gandy. Listed as a center on the Lions' roster but virtually all of his professional experience is at guard. Was unable to win playing time for either Denver or Oakland last year and will probably be an early cut.

Dan Gerberry. A look-see guy only, will have a very difficult time making the roster. Probably an outside shot as a practice squader. GBN listed him as the 36th best center prospect in this year's draft and with only 32 NFL teams ... well, you do the math.

Toniu Fonoti. Another tryout guy. Trying to come back after eating his way out of the NFL. Has been signed by six teams since being cut by San Diego after his second season so plenty of teams still see his potential. Still holds the Nebraska record for pancakes. Words fail.

Lydon Murtha. He's generated a bit of excitement, but the fact remains that he is a 7th round draft pick and has a battle in front of him. He's quick enough to pull, but at this point isn't strong enough or bulky enough to stand up to NFL defenses. Run blocking is a weakness.

Kirk Barton. He got into one game with the Bears last year as a rookie 7th rounder before getting cut and spending roster time with Miami and Cincinnati. It is a little unclear what position he actually plays as he's been listed variously at all three offensive line spots. He played RT for Ohio State so we'll go with that for now.

In addition to Backus, Peterman, Raiola, and Cherilus it is very possible that the Lions go into opening day with the top five guys on the list. More likely one or more gets hurt or disappoints and then the fun really starts.

Tight Ends

Pettigrew has the starting position locked up and Will Heller has the inside track to winning the #2 spot, leaving the field to scramble for one or two other spots.


Casey Fitzsimmons. 7th year Lion is not a great blocker which might be job one for tight ends on this team. He is a decent pass-catcher, can play fullback and has been one of the Lions better special teamers throughout his career. His flexibility may save him. Figures to go deep into August regardless.

Dan Gronkowski. Rookie 7th rounder out of Maryland. Good size with long arms and big hands. He's a good blocker but lacks great speed and will never be a threat to stretch the field. His future in the NFL probably starts on the practice squad with a graduation to blocking back.


Jake Nordin. A holdover from Detroit's '08 practice squad, has one active game in his first three years (Ravens, '07). Is unlikely to force his way onto the roster.


With the move of Sean Conover to DE it is unclear how many tight ends Schwartz/Linehan intend to utilize. Nordin cannot be considered much of a threat to make the team and Gronkowski is a longshot to make a significant impact his rookie year. That would leave three tight ends on the active roster though, an unusually small number for a team that intends to remake itself as a physical running team, particularly considering tight ends are staples of the special teams as well.

Tomorrow we start on the defense.

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