Lions' O-line wants to snap 21st century drought


Both Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell acknowledged it when they arrived, and it's only clearer now: the Lions' strength is their offensive line.

Just how strong is it?

"I think the Lions will have a top five offensive line in the NFL," Dan Orlovsky said after the club drafted Penei Sewell seventh overall, plugging a potential hole at right tackle. "And I think they’ll have a top five offensive line in the NFL for the better part of a decade."

Top five?

"I think we can be the best," second-year guard Jonah Jackson said Thursday as the Lions concluded minicamp. "It’s just a matter of how far we want to go and how we attack each week."

Jackson, who's settling into a full-time role at left guard next to Taylor Decker, said sacks allowed and yards per carry are two of the most important measures for an O-line. In terms of sacks, the Lions are naturally aiming for zero.

What else would they aim for?

"We don’t really want to set a standard for that," said Jackson. "Hopefully it never happens."

In terms of yards per carry, they're aiming for a mark they haven't reached this century.

"I think we were at 4.1 last year," said Jackson. "Take it to 4.5 and up."

Detroit hasn't averaged more than 4.4 yards per carry since Barry Sanders was running back. It last happened in 1997 when the club led the NFC in rushing -- and led the NFL with 5.5 yards per carry.

These days it's D'Andre Swift in the backfield. He averaged 4.6 yards per carry as a rookie, and he's poised for a major breakout if his O-line plays to its potential.

"Going to be real good up front," Swift said during OTA's. "Real excited to run behind them."

The Lions ranked 13th in the NFL in run blocking and 9th in pass blocking last season, according to PFF. The Browns were the standard -- they ranked first in both. More traditionally, the Packers were the only team to rank among the top five in both yards per carry and sacks allowed.

On paper, the Lions' O-line looks great. On the field, the unit of Decker, Jackson, Frank Ragnow, Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Sewell has a lot to prove. The Ravens paced the NFL with 5.5 yards per cary last season; the Lions put up 4.1. The Steelers led the way with 14 sacks allowed; the Lions yielded 42.

But Jackson and Co. know their own talent, and their expectations reflect it.

"The expectations are high every year," said Jackson. "It starts up front. We’re the engine to the car. If we ain’t clicking the rest of the operation can’t go. So the expectation stays the same. Shoot, I’m excited to get rolling with this group, man."