Dominic Raiola has taken his fair share of lumps from Lions fans. From his early years, struggling to find an identity between a carousel of has-been veteran guards and never-will-be youngsters, Raiola has been a favorite punching bag of fans.
From little visible push on goal-line stands, to an obvious difficulty slowing down top nose tackles without guard help, Raiola seemed to most fans to be an obvious bust. Yet, somehow, all of the many head coaches, offensive coordinators, offensive line coaches, and teammates who’ve interacted with Raiola throughout the years has spoken extremely highly of him.
As reported earlier, Raiola has just signed his second major contact extension, ensuring he’ll be anchoring the Lions’ line through 2013.
What does the current Lions’ leadership see in Raiola?
“He has great leverage; he's got great balance. He's a good athlete. In the center position, you don't need a giant to play center,” said head coach Jim Schwartz.
“The last couple years in Tennessee we've had Kevin Mawae, who - if he cracked 280 pounds that was a lot - but he was very athletic, he was a great athlete, he was always on his feet. If you talk about the great centers - probably in the history of the National Football League - I think they'd all have that in common: leverage, feet, balance, quickness - those kinds of things. Dom has all of those.”
However, it’s not just Raiola’s on-field performance that has had Lions fans scratching their heads.
During last season’s disastrous 0-16 campaign, several fans were riding Raiola particularly hard. He made an obscene gesture at them and rebuked them in a profane manner. Even after he was fined $7,500, he showed no remorse about the incident: "I don't take one thing back," he said at the day after. “I'm just so frustrated. I'm tired of being a doormat for people to just talk to us how they want to talk to us. I'm just not going to put up with that anymore.”
However, Schwartz has no reservations about the two-time offensive captain’s character.
“I just want to say how proud I am to have my name associated with a guy like Dominic. He's everything that's right about the NFL; he's a guy that embraces the city he lives in - he lives here year-round.
"He is as hard a working guy as you're going to imagine - a guy that loves the game. (A guy) that is durable, that plays the game the way it's supposed to be played. As an organization and as an individual, we're very, very proud to have him and have him under an extension."
Whether the fans appreciate him or not, Raiola is sure to be the pivot man for the Lions' offensive line for the foreseeable future.
According to the National Football Post, Raiola’s four-year, $20 million extension makes him the fifth-highest-paid center in the NFL.