Lions training camp position preview: Offensive line

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Stability is a rare commodity for offensive lines in the NFL, but that’s just what the Detroit Lions have in 2022.

One of the NFL’s better offensive lines from a year ago returns intact and fully healthy to start the 2022 training camp. The Lions bring back all five starters and the top reserves across the line, too. OL coach Hank Fraley has established himself as one of the best in the business as a teacher, and the former NFL center has molded a cohesive group that has good chemistry.

Lions training camp position preview: Wide receivers

Lions training camp position preview: Quarterback

Lions training camp position preview: Tight end

Lions training camp position preview: Wide receivers

Starting 5

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

There is no drama, no fighting for starting spots along the O-line in Detroit. All five regular starters return and all are healthy to start training camp.

Left to right: Taylor Decker, Jonah Jackson, Frank Ragnow, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Penei Sewell.

That group never played together in 2021 thanks to injuries to Decker and Ragnow, the two former first-round veterans. Ragnow was lost for the season after just four games, while Decker missed the first half of the year.

In the midst of that, the Lions broke in another first-rounder in Sewell. The rookie bounced admirably from left tackle (in place of Decker) to his expected NFL home on the right side. He thrived at RT next to Vaitai, who moved to guard after a rough Lions debut at tackle and played much better.

Jackson earned the unit’s only Pro Bowl nod, a testament to the consistency of the second-year left guard. He’s an emerging standout who proved to be one of the best run blockers in the NFL.

The unit as a whole is consistently ranked near the top of the league, and rightfully so. It’s a powerful, nasty line in the run game that has proficiency and exceptional potential in pass protection, too.

Interior reserves

(AP Photo/Matt Durisko)

Evan Brown was a pleasant surprise as Ragnow’s replacement at center. A 25-year-old journeyman who bounced from the Giants to the Browns with little fanfare, Brown quickly established himself as a capable NFL starter once Ragnow was injured. He’s back after re-signing in free agency. Brown can play center or left guard but is better in the pivot.

Tommy Kraemer didn’t allow a sack in 125 pass protection reps as a fill-in guard when Vaitai (two games) and Jackson (one game) missed some time. The undrafted rookie from Notre Dame needs to be the aggressor and doesn’t have ideal range, but he acquitted himself nicely. The coaching staff is quite bullish on his long-term prospects.

Another 2021 UDFA rookie, Ryan McCollum, saw action at center. He struggled badly in relief duty in the finale against the Packers, but the Lions saw enough potential to reward McCollum with a contract higher than was required to retain the Texas A&M product.

It’s now-or-never time for Logan Stenberg. A fourth-round pick in 2020, Stenberg has played exactly four snaps in two seasons and has been a healthy scratch for most of his NFL tenure. The penalty issues that plagued him at Kentucky have not abated, nor has his hit-and-miss hand usage.

Backup tackles

(AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)

Matt Nelson returns as the top reserve tackle and is effectively unchallenged in that role. He did not impress as the starting right tackle while Decker was out, but did play much more effectively as a de facto blocking tight end once Decker returned. Nelson is a convert from defensive end and is still honing the footwork and hand placement/timing as a pass protector.

Veteran Dan Skipper is the new Andre Fluellen in Detroit. He’s been involved in nearly 25 roster moves since joining the Lions in 2017, including three stints on other practice squads in that time. The tallest Lions player at 6-9, Skipper has played just 19 snaps in 10 career games in Detroit.

Skipper will face challengers for his spot. One of them could very well be Stenberg, who got some looks at tackle in OTAs and minicamp.

The UDFAs

(AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

The Lions have three rookie UDFAs on the offensive line. All are longshots to do more than join the practice squad in 2022.

Obinna Eze is a tackle with outstanding length. The TCU product is 6-8 with arms over 36 inches long. During minicamp, he struggled to fire those long arms out fast enough, and his recovery athleticism will need to improve.

Two interior UDFAs, Kevin Jarvis and Zein Obeid, showed a little more potential in the early offseason. Jarvis, from Michigan State, can play all over the line and brings energy and power. Obeid is hoping to make the jump from D-II Ferris State at training camp right next to Dearborn, where he went to high school. The powerful 23-year-old will get looks at both tackle–where he played for the Bulldogs–and guard.

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