There are still opportunities for the Lions Offensive Line unit to make beautiful music together.
The Detroit Lions’ offensive line is going to look a lot different than last year. With the additions of Greg Robinson and Cyrus Kouandjio, both offensive tackles will be different, and there will be a changing of the guards too.
Some of the change is by design. The team feels it upgraded at right tackle by bringing in Ricky Wagner and letting Riley Reiff walk. Given the contracts each received and their recent respective play, I wholeheartedly agree.
Larry Warford left for greener pastures, an expected move. Warford was uneven at left guard but not a detriment by any means. The Lions planned ahead for his departure by selecting both Joe Dahl and Graham Glasgow in the 2016 draft. That’s smart planning, especially given Laken Tomlinson’s issues so far.
The plan hit an unexpected and tragic speed bump when left tackle Taylor Decker went down with shoulder surgery. The crown jewel up front, the first-round pick who played (mostly) like one right away is now lost for at least half the 2017 season, and probably the entire year.
Shoulder surgery means no weightlifting for months, no strenuous upper body or even lower body workouts for weeks. It’s not an easy procedure and there is no expeditious recovery magic. Even if Decker returns around week 10, it’s unreasonable to expect him to be even as good as he was last year. No live reps and the relative loss of strength from the surgery and rehab does have a negative impact, unfortunately.
The in-house options to replace Decker are, uh, how to be kind…unappealing. At best. This isn’t a situation where the Lions can go Judas Priest and simply pluck Ripper Owens from a professional, well-regarded cover band and insert him into the lineup for Rob Halford. No, the Lions are instead going to open mic night and hoping somebody can carry a tune and not need to drunkenly read the teleprompter while doing so.
Greg Robinson and Cyrus Kouandjio are the physically attractive karaoke singers the Lions are hoping can sing well enough for a few months to at least keep Matthew Stafford alive through preseason.
It’s not a happy song. Robinson is one of the biggest draft busts of the last 20 years. He’s the poster boy for being wary of drafting physical traits that don’t come with much (in his case, ANY) real football ability other than just being a freak in the weight room.
He’s Vince Neil to me. Back when Mötley Crüe was still musically relevant, Neil was at least a charming frontman even with his limited vocal chops. He could hit some notes and he looked great strutting around the stage in his tight leather pants. That was Greg Robinson at Auburn.
Man, he looked awesome for the Tigers. They didn’t ask him to do much other than fire off the line and physically annihilate what was lined up directly across from him. Auburn was a power run team with two 1,000-yard rushers (Tre Mason and Nick Marshall) running the read option to perfection. They scored 48 rushing touchdowns in 2013, Robinson’s shining season.
The Rams made him the No. 2 pick in the 2014 draft. By the end of their first training camp there were already signs of buyer’s remorse. They quickly figured out he needed TE help against even their backup edge rushers in pass protection. The hope was he would get better as he developed better technique…
…except he never did. Like Vince Neil, he never worked at his craft. Neil’s voice was painfully thin by the end of the Dr. Feelgood tour in 1990. He tried to scream through it and it only made things worse. Improper vocal technique is tragic for singers, just as improper blocking technique is for tackles.
Robinson has never learned balance in pass protection. He oversteps, he bends at the waist, he drops his head, he overcommits to an initial reaction and cannot recover when the defender does something different or quick.
Mötley Crüe got tired of the lack of effort and unprofessionalism and brought in John Corabi. I’m going to guess than 99 percent of readers here didn’t even know that. Now Greg Robinson is Detroit’s John Corabi, and the hope is it’s more successful than what happened to Mötley Crüe in those ensuing years.
Just for insurance, Detroit also is auditioning Cyrus Kouandjio. If Greg Robinson is the epitome of athleticism without football ability, Kouandjio is the perfect definition of an athlete who peaked earlier than his peers and coasted on that high school dominance.
Kouandjio was once one of the most heralded offensive line recruits ever. I know this only because I know more about Icelandic geopolitics and heavy metal violinists than I do recruiting but I strongly remember the hype around Kouandjio heading to Alabama.
He’s not a good athlete for his position. The Buffalo Bills quickly, painfully learned that after making him a second-round pick. When he gave them a reason to cut bait, his bizarre incident where he got naked in a pasture and asked police to shoot him, the Bills didn’t wait.
Neither newcomer is a long-term Lion. Kouandjio strikes me as more likely to be a better band-aid at left tackle. He could be Blaze Bayley, who stepped in for Iron Maiden when Bruce Dickinson went AWOL. Iron Maiden had some decent music with Bayley. It wasn’t the same, but it wasn’t bad.
As Lions fans, that’s all we can hope for with Decker on the shelf. All those replaced singers eventually came back. I saw Maiden with a rejuvenated Bruce and they were fantastic, dare I say better than they were on the Seventh Son tour in their prior heyday. Judas Priest leaped back into prominence with a healthy, happy return from Halford.
Even the Crüe went back from 250-seat clubs and county fair venues back to a triumphant final stadium tour with Neil, even though he sounded worse. Two out of those three outcomes were just fine. That’s the best odds the Lions have in 2017 at left tackle.