MIKE O'HARA

O'HARA: Looking back at Lions' 1993 offensive line

Posted Mar 15, 2017

This isn't the first time the Lions have used free agency to strengthen the offensive line.

General manager Bob Quinn’s foray into the free-agent market to strengthen the Detroit Lions’ offensive line is almost a carbon copy of the strategy employed by previous Lions management in 1993, the first year of free agency in the NFL.

Quinn acted quickly this year. He signed right tackle Rick Wagner, formerly of the Ravens on the first day of free agency Thursday. On Sunday, he signed right guard T.J. Lang, formerly of the Packers.

It was an aggressive approach by Quinn, and one that Lang said in a conference-call interview should give the Lions one of the NFL’s top offensive lines as he and Wagner join a young group of incumbent starters and backups.

Wagner and Lang are replacing former starters Riley Reiff and Larry Warford, who signed with the Vikings and Saints respectively.

Lomas Brown, a seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle and a Lion from 1985-95 in an 18-year career, likes the moves Quinn made, but expects an adjustment period will be needed – just as there was with the 1993 team.

“Once they all get together and are able to work together, they should click,” he said. “It’s going to take a little time to learn each other – even the little dos and don’ts.”

Communication is vital at all positions, but it’s especially true on the offensive line. Confusion can cause a missed assignment, which in turn can lead to sacks and game-changing turnovers.

There’s an adjustment for players who come together from different teams.

“With the offensive line, it’s a common language,” Brown said. “But everybody says it different.”

The 1993 offensive line needed a rebuild, because of tragedies that had ended the career of two rising young stars.

Late in the 1991 season, right guard Mike Utley sustained a paralyzing injury that ended his career. In the offseason, left guard Eric Andolsek, rapidly rising in stature as one of the league’s best all-around guards, was killed when struck by a runaway truck while working in his yard in Louisiana.

The Lions had developed a good, young team, with Andolsek and Utley important members of an offensive line led by Brown and Pro Bowl center Kevin Glover. The line helped clear the way for running back Barry Sanders – who, in truth, didn’t need much help – and was a proficient pass-blocking unit.

The 1991 Lions won the old NFC Central title with a 12-4 won-loss record and defeated Dallas in the divisional playoff round.

There was no free agency in 1992, and the Lions were unable to re-stock the line. Their record skidded to 5-11. The Lions had obvious offensive talent – with receivers Herman Moore and Brett Perriman to go with Sanders – but the offense needed a quick fix.

Free agency’s arrival provided the fix. The Lions signed three veteran starters – guards Bill Fralic and Dave Richards, and right tackle Dave Lutz.

The Lions rebounded to go 10-6 and win the division. It was the first of three straight playoff appearances and four in five years.

One major difference in 1993 was that there was no salary cap. The cap was instituted in 1994. The Lions gave big contracts to Fralic and Richards knowing that both would be on the team for only one year. Lutz was a Lion through 1995.

Brown left the Lions after the 1995 season as a free agent. Glover was a Lion through 1997.

Brown expects this year’s additions to improve the running game, which has been a decade-long – or longer – weakness.

“Right now, our offense is predicated on the passing game,” Brown said. “It looks like they (Lang and Wagner) are coming in with the mindset of running the ball.”