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Lions to enter camp with offensive line questions
The Detroit Lions spent $76 million to upgrade their offensive line this offseason, but when they open training camp in July their biggest question mark will be the group protecting quarterback Matthew Stafford up front.
Starting left tackle Taylor Decker underwent shoulder surgery last week and is expected to miss at least the start of the regular season, and right guard T.J Lang still hasn't practiced with the team because of January hip surgery.
The Lions knew full well Lang would be out until summer when they signed him to a three-year, $28.5 million deal in March, but they've been left to scramble for a replacement for Decker, a player they believe will be a franchise left tackle in due time, after he suffered a spring injury.
On the last day of minicamp Thursday, the Lions added two new faces to their left tackle mix, signing Cyrus Kouandjio as a free agent and trading a 2018 sixth-round draft pick to the Los Angeles Rams for Greg Robinson.
Both Kouandjio, a second-round pick by the Buffalo Bills in 2014 who's coming off his own January hip surgery, and Robinson, the No. 2 overall pick of the same draft, are candidates to start Week 1 at left tackle, though their pock-marked resumes leave plenty to be desired.
Robinson lost his starting left tackle job this offseason amid questions about his love for the game, and Kouandjio was waived in May after a series of bizarre off-field incidents.
Along with Robinson and Kouandjio, fourth-year pro Cornelius Lucas and 2016 fifth-round pick Joe Dahl will compete for the left tackle job this fall. Corey Robinson, the team's swing tackle last year, could be in the mix, too, though his status for the start of training camp is unclear as he recovers from January foot surgery.
"I don't think there's any question that the competitiveness of the group is heightened (by the additions of Kouandjio and Greg Robinson)," Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said. "I think we feel good about it in terms of how we're shaping up, anyway. I just think it's going to be a situation where we're going to improve. Anytime you can get a position that improves a significant amount in this league, one percent, two percent is big in this league, that's what we're interested in."
Even with questions about the offensive line, the Lions feel good about the rest of their team heading into summer. Stafford is entering his second full season in coordinator Jim Bob Cooter's offense and talking about being more aggressive downfield. Running back Ameer Abdullah is ahead of schedule in his return from a foot injury that cost him most of last year. And the Lions, though they lack an abundance of playmakers on defense, have the depth to make them a contender on that side of the ball.
"We're trying to get better as quickly as we possibly can," Caldwell said. "I think our guys have been functioning that way in terms of their sense of urgency, how they practice, how they prepare and I think this is just in line with our thinking."