Lions’ linemen compete for bragging rights while learning on the fly

Detroit News

Allen Park — School’s out for the summer, but for some Detroit Lions players, OTAs and training camp made them feel like they were back in class.

That’s because offensive line coach Hank Fraley and defensive line coach Todd Wash both put a little spin on learning the positions before final exams come in training camp.

Both Wash and Fraley said they put their players through “tests” to help their players become acclimated with systems and structures that the Lions are putting in place ahead of the season.

“It’s a little bit of everything; you have Jeopardy! and stuff like that. It’s like being back in high school or something like that,” Fraley said.

While it may be a tad unconventional, from the sounds of it, it’s been a worthwhile endeavor. After all, they are “like teachers,” Fraley said, and the best way to connect with athletes is to produce a competitive environment.

“We do it once a week,” Wash said. “Base defense or whatever it might be, and it’s just like Jeopardy! on TV. Split up into two teams, they pick (questions) and it’s for bragging rights in the room. They enjoy it. It’s a way they learn, and they don’t even know they’re learning. So, it’s a fun little game we play. We had it at different spots we’ve been, and it’s a way for them to learn and compete in a room together.”

In Wash’s room, rookie edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson has been a standout. “He gets upset if a teammate doesn’t know the answer,” Wash said, adding that the games have highlighted the intelligence of Hutchinson’s ability.

“We’re excited about where he is at. He’s very, very intelligent — this morning, we played defensive Jeopardy! and he was answering all the questions, even at different positions,” Wash said. “We’re like, ‘Damn, that’s pretty good, that’s good stuff.’ So, we’re excited, and once we get pads on, I think we’re going to see even more of him.”

In the O-line room, Fraley keeps the tests a little bit more diverse. In addition to Jeopardy!, he said he uses the game-based platform Kahoot!, which gives players multiple-choice questions that Fraley said can number in the fifties.

The Lions started seven different combinations at offensive line last season. Rookie Penei Sewell spent time at left tackle and right tackle. Jonah Jackson morphed into a Pro Bowler while All-Pro center Frank Ragnow played less than a quarter of last season.

The idea of these tests, Fraley said, is to make sure that players are ready to enter in any situation necessary — and for their teammates to be confident that the guy next to them knows what they’re doing.

“They just took a pretty long test, lengthy test, but the guys that aren’t starting, the challenging part is that they’re not always getting the rep just at right guard. They’re learning the center position, they’ve learned left guard,” Fraley said.

“We try to make it loose and have fun with (the games), but keep them on their toes to be ready. It can be anybody getting there, from a rookie having to get up and say, ‘Hey, this is how we’re blocking it,’ to Frank Ragnow, ‘Hey, this time we’re going to ID it and block it.’ We try to keep everybody accountable. That’s the biggest thing, is the accountability.”

Of course, the real tests will come once the season begins. But for now, the Lions’ trenches appear to be making the grade — and having a lot of fun in the meantime.

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