Senior Bowl presents Lions with multiple options at offensive line

Detroit News

Mobile, Ala. — You want a fear-mongering first-rounder from the SEC? They’ve got it.

You want a sixth-year senior from North Dakota State with flowing red hair and a missing set of front teeth? They’ve got it.

You want a balanced guard from one of the fastest offenses in the country? They’ve got that, too.

With starting right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who turns 30 in June, coming off back surgery and interim starter Evan Brown an impending free agent, it feels paramount the Detroit Lions address their interior offensive line in the upcoming draft. The Senior Bowl has provided them with options at every level, but there’s a few players who make sense for Detroit in the first few rounds who are having great weeks.

At the top, there’s O’Cyrus Torrence. The consensus No. 1 offensive guard in the draft transferred to Florida for his final year from Louisiana Lafayette, where he was already one of the best guards in the country. Since then, all the 6-foot-5, 347-pound consensus All-American has done is reinforce he’s one of this draft’s best prospects.

“I felt like it kinda solidified what some people already knew and myself already knew,” Torrence said. “Going to Florida and being more dominant than I was at Louisiana … I was more prepared for the type of defensive players I’m playing against (at Senior Bowl practices), and I think that shows that I’m ready to fill the big challenge that’s ahead.”

For Torrence, the challenge ahead is less daunting because of the leap he made last offseason. He said preparing to play at a big-time school in Florida was a leap in itself, which gives him the confidence to do it again.

If the Lions are enamored with Torrence — provided a trade doesn’t drastically change their draft positions — they’ll likely have have to take him with the No. 18 pick. Even if Torrence does slip into the late first round or early second, the Lions don’t pick again for 30 spots (No. 48 overall).

While the Lions desperately need to continue loading their defense with talent at the top of the draft, the chance to solidify the guard position for years to come with a prospect like Torrence has to be at least somewhat enticing.

“I like to play throughout the whistle, just be violent at the point of attack and have the energy — things you can’t coach, things you just gotta have, things it takes zero time to do is what you’ll see,” Torrence said.

“Playing fast, being physical, chasing the ball, things like that, and energy-wise, always being around the pile, helping guys up, and just being technical with my technique and things like that.”

If the Lions are firm on not spending their first-rounder on the offensive line, interior linemen Steve Avila (TCU) and Cody Mauch (North Dakota State) would make fine options on Day 2.

At 6-foot-4, 330 pounds, Avila in 2022 primarily played left guard for the Horned Frogs, who made a run to the College Football Playoff title game. In 2021, he played 91.8% of his snaps at center. Not only does he bring an instant ability to win the starting job, but could prove to be an extremely valuable piece if and when the unit suffers depth issues.

Though a majority of value comes from pass protection, he’s ended his college career with positive marks as a run blocker, too.

“One of the goals I had coming in was just to show my versatility,” Avila said. “I wanna show that I can do it all, and that comes with my position as well as the type of schemes that people put me into. I feel like people put me into a box and label me as just an inside zone blocker — which I am — but I feel like I can do a lot more.”

It’d be natural for Avila to experience some early difficulties, coming from one of the fastest offenses in college football to a pro-style camp. But he said the past week has only given him an early preview of how he’ll have to adjust when drafted.

“It’s really a lot of the same in terms of what we do, it’s really just the terminology and how you say it, and I guess the techniques that change,” Avila said. “It’s just a great opportunity for me to adjust to a new coach and playbook too. I’ve been taking a lot of notes on that.”

Mauch (6-foot-5, 305 pounds) is looking to demonstrate all the same things Avila is. His toothless smile and fire-red hair/beard combo have been hard to miss during this week’s practices, and he’s made the most of his spotlight.

“If you can play one position really well, it means a lot. But if you can play five spots really well, how much more does that mean to a team?” Mauch said. “So I think be able in some capacity to play all five positions, you’re making yourself that much more valuable to a spot.”

The sixth-year senior doesn’t have the center experience Avila does, but he said he’s been practicing at the position dating to last season.

“I’ve been … snapping on the side a little bit and I was doing a lot in school, just trying to get snaps after practice, so I’m continuing to do that,” Mauch said. “If I need to go in at center this week, I’ll go in at center.”

nbianchi@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @nolanbianchi

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