MIKE O'HARA

Cherilus not about to concede his starting right tackle spot

Posted May 25, 2012

Gosder Cherilus knows that he might be feeling some heat this year, and not because some of the Lions' offseason practices have been conducted in unseasonably warm weather.

For four seasons, Cherilus has been the primary starter at right tackle on the offensive line.

There have been a few exceptions. One was the last four games of the 2010 season, when a knee injury that required microfracture surgery and a painstaking rehabilitation program forced Cherilus to miss.

Another exception was Game 2 of last season. An untimely penalty incurred by Cherilus late in the Lions' victory at Tampa Bay on opening day angered coach Jim Schwartz. Cherilus was demoted from the starting lineup for the next game and replaced by Corey Hilliard, who also took Cherilus' job in 2010.

Cherilus faces a new, and perhaps more ominous, threat this season.

Riley Reiff, an offensive tackle from Iowa, was drafted in the first round. Reiff played left and right tackle at Iowa, but his primary position is left tackle.

Schwartz has said often that Reiff was drafted to play left tackle ... eventually. Jeff Backus has started 176 straight games at left tackle in the regular season, plus last season's playoff game against the Saints, since coming to the Lions as a first-round draft pick in 2011.

Backus is healing nicely from a torn biceps tendon sustained late in the playoff loss to the Saints. Backus has been taking part in the offseason workouts. Barring further injury, he is certain to open a 12th straight season at left tackle.

The Lions are not inclined to have Reiff break in at guard while waiting to inherit the job at left tackle.

That leaves one spot open - right tackle.

Cherilus is accepting the challenge to keep his job, however, and not backing down from it.

"You show up, you do what you're supposed to do, you should be fine," he said earlier this week. "You don't do it - they give somebody else a chance.

"I'm feeling good. I'm feeling healthy. If I do my best, my best should be plenty. That's all you can do."

Cherilus knew that offensive line was a position under consideration by the Lions early in the draft. He didn't watch the first round but found out soon enough that the Lions, indeed, drafted an offensive tackle.

"I was actually out of town," Cherilus said. "I didn't know it until the next day. It wasn't surprising, to tell you truth. That's their job, to make the team better.

"When you draft an offensive lineman, you don't draft for one year or two years. They're trying to build this thing. Even though we have a good thing going on, we still have some positions we can get better at."

Cherilus plays rough, and there was one play last season when he was too rough.

The Lions were closing out their 27-20 win at Tampa Bay when Cherilus committed a penalty for unnecessary roughness that gave the Bucs some life to make a comeback.

The Lions had 1,058 plays on offense last season. As a team, they committed 128 penalties, third-most in the league.

The play and penalty against Cherilus put him in the spotlight for the rest of the season. On the ill-timed play, the Lions' offense had third-and-six at the Bucs' 36, with the Bucs out of timeouts and 1:24 left when the ball was snapped.

The Lions called a safe run, designed to keep the clock moving. But the roughing penalty stopped the clock with 1:16 left.

After a punt into the end zone, the Bucs got the ball at their 20 with 1:07 left.

Had there been no penalty, they could have gotten the ball with less than 30 seconds remaining. The extra time let the Bucs run nine plays, ending the game at the Lions' 32 on a wild play that started with a pass and had four laterals and a fumble recovery by the Bucs.

Schwartz called it a "stupid penalty" in his post-game press conference and benched Cherilus for one game.

Cherilus rebounded from that to have a solid season.

Cherilus approaches most interviews with a light-hearted sense of humor, but there's an air of stoicism as he talks about preparing for his fifth season with the Lions.

His focus is to block the man across from him and block out any negative distractions.

He also is not focusing on the knee issues he has faced from the injury in 2010.

"It's not anything big," he said. "If you want to compete at the highest level, you have to give yourself a chance.

"You have to be at your best when your best is required. As an athlete, especially being a professional athlete, it's not your job to explain yourself to the whole world.

"Once your number is called, you're healthy enough to be out there. Just show up, and do what you're supposed to do."