Lions Enjoy Flexibility On Offensive Line

The re-signing of left tackle Jeff Backus solidifies a group with returning starters and interesting additions. The Lions will continue working on a long-term deal with Backus' agent, beyond the team's tender offer.

ALLEN PARK -- Left tackle Jeff Backus still doesn't have the long-term contract the Lions have talked about for the last three years but he can take consolation in the $6.983 million he will receive for the 2006 season.

Backus wore the Lions franchise player tag for roughly 2 1/2 months before signing the team's tender offer, guaranteeing him the average salary for the five highest-paid offensive linemen in the NFL.

The Lions have indicated they will continue trying to work out a long-term deal with Backus' agent, Pat Dye, but in the meanwhile they will have the all-important left tackle hole filled as coach Rod Marinelli and offensive line coach Larry Beightol begin reconstructing the line.

Backus has started every game since the Lions took him in the first round of the NFL draft in 2001 and -- along with center Dominic Raiola and right guard Damien Woody -- is expected to retain his starting job for the upcoming season.

The other two positions -- left guard and right tackle -- could be open for competition as Marinelli seeks to establish the strong running game that has become a major part of offensive coordinator Mike Martz's style of football.

The addition of veteran free agents Barry Stokes, Rex Tucker and Courtney Van Buren has given Beightol additional options for the two positions that must be upgraded from the 2005 season.

Stokes and Van Buren are expected to compete with Rick DeMulling for the left guard job that was held most of the season by Kyle Kosier, who was lost in free agency this spring. Tucker is working at right tackle, along with Kelly Butler, who started every game last year in only his second NFL season.

In addition, the Lions added three rookies -- late draft picks Jonathan Scott and Fred Matua, along with Frank Davis, an undrafted rookie from South Florida.

What Marinelli likes about all of the line candidates is that they have the flexibility to work at different positions.

"We're just trying to find five starters right now," Marinelli said. "And there are some guys that have some position flexibility and back up also."

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