Cherilus was drafted by the Lions in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft into a zone-blocking scheme, a system he was familiar with from college; but after only one season, Cherilus had to transition into a different system, one that utilizes different schemes based on the game plan.
“They have someone lined up right in front of you and it’s like, ‘If I take care of you, we’ll be successful,’ because this block depends on me and if I move my guy out of the hole it will make a difference for the running back,” said Cherilus.
“I definitely like playing in this system and as you can see, it’s still a work in progress for a lot of us, we’re still a young team, but I feel like as soon as we get all of the little things right, the sky is the limit.”
Now in his second season within the same system, Cherilus has seen a difference in his overall comfort level and understanding of the game, as well as in his physical ability.
Dealing with injuries during the first two seasons, Cherilus hasn’t had the opportunity to play 100-percent until now.
“It started about a year ago, where I started to see things a little bit clearer and going into the offseason, my main thing was to get healthy,” said Cherilus. “I did a lot of things to put myself in good position to stay healthy, like yoga classes. I got my knees taken care of, came back and everything felt so much better.
“People may not realize it, but at the end of the day when you’re healthy you can get into position to be competitive and have fun. With doing little things right, getting in the weight room and getting my head in the playbook, I understand the system a lot better and I’m getting myself healthy which makes a ton of difference.”
Getting healthy and adding routines to improve his ability as a player has had a huge impact on Cherilus’ development, as has the advice from veteran players like 10th-year left tackle
“Jeff’s helped me a ton. He’s the oldest and he takes so many notes. He’s always taking notes. Sometimes I look at him like, ‘What is he taking notes for?’ And then I’ll just start taking notes,” said Cherilus.
“I’ll ask him a millions questions, like, ‘Why do you set this way?’ And he’s always willing to help me out. Even before the game I’ll be like, ‘Jeff, what’s your plan for this game?’ Even though I have my own game plan.”
While Backus has a different approach to how he plays, Cherilus has used his advice to alter certain aspects of how he plays and has become a better player for it.
“Deep inside we’re different,” said Cherilus. “Jeff is more, ‘Come to me, I’m going to do all of the things right and once you get close enough I’ll block you.’ I’m a big, strong guy and I’ll beat and kill everybody and that’s one of the things that he told me when I first got here, he said, ‘You don’t have to try to kill them all, if you just do what you’re supposed to do, stay in good position, they’re going to come to you and when they’re close enough to block them, then just block them.’
“It’s not like college where you have to kill every body to make a difference. If you go out there and know the system, just do what you’re supposed to do and the quarterback will get rid of the ball on time and you’ll block your guy fine. I’m fortunate in a way and very happy to be able to play with a guy like Jeff.”
Working together as a unit, the Lions’ offensive line has done well so far in protecting the quarterback and allowing the passing game to take off against some of the top defensive lines in the league.
Not “having a break” this season has been a welcomed challenge for Cherilus, who as a natural competitor, enjoys having his hands full each Sunday.
“You don’t want be that guy when you come to the meeting room on Monday and say, ‘Hey, I wish I could have done this better. If I had done my job a little bit better we would have had a better chance to win,’” said Cherilus. “So prior to the game we do all of the little things right as far as watch film, study those guys and ask each other questions, ‘Hey, how do you think you played on Sunday?’ We stay together. It’s not one man’s job.
“We understand the system. Once you know exactly what the game plan is and who you’re going against, then you go into the game with your own game plan. If we continue to do the little things right, the things that have really helped us to get us to where we are today, we’ll be successful and that’s what we’ve been doing.”.