COMMENTARY | There is no denying the fact that the Detroit Lions' offensive line has undergone many changes over the course of this offseason. Longtime starter Jeff Backus has retired, Gosder Cherilus has moved on to the Indianapolis Colts and Stephen Peterman has been removed from the roster.
Moving Reilly Reiff to left tackle will be a big adjustment for the second-year player. Rookie Larry Warford is going to be asked to step in immediately at right guard and there will be a tough positional battle at right tackle between Corey Hilliard and Jason Fox.
And yet, even with all of this turnover, the offensive line is not the biggest question mark heading into the 2013 season. That unfortunate distinction goes to the defensive backfield. Detroit has made tremendous strides towards improving the unit recently. Retaining both Chris Houston and Louis Delmas were important steps in the right direction, as was drafting Darius Slay. However, between injuries and lack of experience, the secondary is a massive question mark.
Delmas, someone who is supposed to assume a leadership role this season, is now battling yet another complication to the knee injury that sidelined him for a large portion of last season. Detroit needs Delmas on the field because of the hard-hitting ability he brings to the table, but he cannot stay healthy and is going to be a constant liability even if he ever is fully healthy.
Slay is only a rookie, undoubtedly a talented rookie, but he is also working his way back from a knee injury. His battle with second-year cornerback Bill Bentley for a starting position is going to be extremely intriguing to watch. Bentley is someone who is best served in a nickel coverage role, so the Lions need Slay to perform well right away and claim the starting spot.
This is a division that features some of the best aerial attacks in football between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears. Slay and Bentley are capable players, but both are going to have to learn under fire as quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler attack them ferociously until they prove themselves.
This is not to overlook the turnover along the offensive line. It is going to be a difficult transition and it is easy to understand the following comments from Matt Williamson of ESPN.com:
"I loved the drafting of Larry Warford , a mauling pure guard who should upgrade the right guard spot. He should solidify the interior of Detroit's offensive line, especially in the run game, along with incumbent Dominic Raiola at center and the vastly underrated Rob Sims at left guard. But the tackles certainly worry me, especially considering the edge pass-rushers in the division, headlined by Julius Peppers , Clay Matthews and Jared Allen . Matthew Stafford is very tough and has been durable over the past two seasons, but the Lions certainly don't want their franchise quarterback taking a lot of punishment, particularly considering how passing-oriented this offense has become."
These are valid points to make, but Detroit's hopes of developing a more balanced offensive attack should at least help alleviate some of the pressure on the offensive line. Defenses will not be able to predict what the Lions are going to do on any given down because (theoretically) they will be just as willing to hand the ball off to Reggie Bush as they are to throw it deep to Calvin Johnson.
The secondary is not going to have any place to hide when opponents start getting pass-happy. This is not to say a unit featuring Houston, Delmas, Slay, Bentley and Glover Quin cannot succeed when firing on all cylinders, but between injuries and inexperience it is tough to predict just how much this group will be on the field together.
Could it all work out? Absolutely, but the question marks surrounding the secondary are abundant.
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