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Cornered Lions find relief in Reiff

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As consolation prizes go, this one was pretty valuable.

Unable to trade up to pluck one of the two cornerbacks they coveted in the first round Thursday -- South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore or Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick -- the Lions stayed at 23 and took the second best offensive lineman on their board, Iowa tackle Riley Reiff.

"It's not very often that the second offensive lineman on your board goes off at 23," coach Jim Schwartz said. "Historically, there's normally four offensive linemen off the board by that point. We were very fortunate to be sitting at 23 and able to get the best player on our board who plays a position we where we were looking to get some younger players into the pipeline."

Reiff, the first Big Ten player selected, is just under 6-6 and 313 pounds and has been compared to Titans Pro Bowl tackle Michael Roos. Only USC's Ryan Kalil, who went fourth to Minnesota, was rated higher on the Lions' board.

"We looked at all our options," said general manager Martin Mayhew. "We tried to go up and at one point we talked about moving back. We stayed put and were able to get a really good player."

While most draft experts debated whether Reiff was a better fit as a right tackle or left tackle, Schwartz was firm.

"He's a left tackle," he said. "He fits the criteria that you want at that position. He's big, tough, he's a former tight end and a three-time state wrestling champ (South Dakota). He comes from a great tradition of offensive linemen at Iowa. He's a good run blocker and a good pass protector.

"Even though he is young and will still improve in certain areas, we're not drafting a guy that's a developmental player."

So what does that mean for starting left tackle Jeff Backus, who will turn 35 in September and is coming off biceps surgery? Will he have to fight for his job? Will he be moved to guard?

"It's way too early to take that approach," Schwartz said. "We'll put them all out there and we'll play. Their play in training camp, in the OTAs and in the preseason, that will determine those things, not anything we are thinking right now."

Reiff is just glad for the chance to compete. Even though he was expected to go much higher than 23, he was not in New York Thursday. Instead, he was sitting in his barn at his home in Parkston, S.D., when he got the call.

"I wasn't watching TV," he said. "I just told myself, 'Whatever happens happens.' It didn't matter to me (where he was drafted). I'm just ready to play football and I am super excited to be a Detroit Lion."

As for competing for a starting job, Reiff was respectful but clearly up for the challenge.

"I will come in and compete and try to learn from the guys," he said. "We will see how it works out. I just know I am going to come in and work hard and make the best of it."

Reiff took over the left tackle spot at Iowa for All-American Bryan Bulaga (Packers). He started 37 of 39 games, 29 of those at left tackle. According to Iowa statistics, he had 38 touchdown-resulting blocks and 264 knock-down blocks in more than 2,500 plays.

"He's big, smart, tough and versatile," Mayhew said. "He was a three-year starter in a good program. We came into the draft thinking we needed to add some young players to that (offensive line) group and Riley fits the mold."
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