Things will look different for the Detroit Lions upfront along their offensive line this season with two starting jobs available at right guard and right tackle, and competition for the left guard spot expected to be fierce with incumbent Joe Dahl having to earn his starting role again.
It's no secret Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell wants to be more balanced on offense and feature a more robust rushing attack. That was the hope last season in Bevell's first year running the Lions' offense, but it didn't work out that way.
Detroit's rushing attack finished 21st in the league in yards per game. Their 4.1 yards per attempt ranked 22nd. Detroit's seven rushing touchdowns were the third fewest in the league.
Detroit is expected to have intense competition for some of those starting roles upfront, something Bevell hopes will translate to the field in the run game.
The Lions added tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai in free agency, a player who should be an upgrade in the run game over Rick Wagner, who now plays for Green Bay.
Detroit drafted guards Jonah Jackson and Logan Stenberg with back-to-back picks in this year's NFL Draft. Bevell thinks they bring a certain toughness and attitude to the o-line room.
"If I think back to what (center) Frank (Ragnow) maybe was talking to you guys about that toughness and when you look at those guys with Jonah and with Logan and those guys, I think they bring that mentality," Bevell said.
"You really want those tough, nasty grinders because that's what it is in the run game. It's a grown man's type of game and I've always talked on here that's something we really hang our hat on and we weren't able to do it as well as we wanted to last year. So, hopefully some of these additions will be able to help us do that."
More than any other position group, the offensive line has to be in lockstep with all five guys playing as a singular unit. Having to operate the offseason program in a virtual environment certainly doesn't help, but at least all 32 teams are in the same boat. Bevell said when it comes to that unit, the right hand needs to know what the left hand is doing.
"It's probably the place we have the most newness," Bevell said of his offense. "Obviously, new right tackle, we have some guard positions up in the air."
Bevell won't know exactly what he has upfront until the players report back to training camp in July and things start to figure themselves out on the field. But based off the tape and the virtual interactions so far, Bevell thinks the Lions have added some toughness upfront he didn't think they had a year ago.
It's a unit Bevell's excited to start working with, and one he thinks has the potential to help lead a resurgence in the run game behind a backfield that now features second-round pick D'Andre Swift and returning veterans Kerryon Johnson and Bo Scarbrough.
Johnson and Scarbrough showed some good things at the end of last year as a duo, and Bevell is excited to add an explosive playmaker like Swift to that group.
But in the run game, everything starts upfront. Detroit wanted to get nastier upfront this offseason. They should have good competition for both guard spots in training camp, and hopefully that will translate to better results upfront in the run game.
"It's a lunch-pail, so to speak type of group," Bevell said of the offensive line the Lions have assembled this offseason. "They kind of like to hurt the opponent as well. It's really a mentality, all you have to do is turn Logan's tape on, and you can see that in him and in Jonah as well."