Monday, July 30, 2012

Rookie Riley Reiff is a Lion of the future

The Lions' Riley Reiff breaks from the line during training camp in July. / Duane Burleson

By Jeff Seidel

July 30, 2012

Jeff Backus stood behind the Lions' huddle, wearing a brace on his right hand. He was not allowed to practice Sunday morning because of a thumb injury.

Would it have kept him out of a regular-season game? Probably not. Backus is so durable and tough he would still play if his appendix popped out of his belly button.

But the Lions do have an age-old problem on their offensive line; it is, well, getting age-old.

And that is why the Lions drafted Riley Reiff in the first round -- he is an insurance policy in the short term and, they hope, the left tackle of the future.

Backus has started every game for the Lions since 2001, the same year Reiff entered the sixth grade.

And now, Backus is developing into a mentor for this rookie from the University of Iowa.

"He's going to be here and he's going to play a lot of football," Backus said of Reiff. "As much as I can help him, I will. It's just part of my job description now. And I enjoy it."

'Tough, competitive guy'

Reiff is a big country boy from South Dakota. He grew up in a town of about 2,000 and he would rather go fishing than head to a big city with -- you know -- traffic lights.

Reiff is already a big fan of the fishing opportunities in Michigan. About a month ago, Reiff went out with some friends on Lake St. Clair. "We caught a whole bunch of smallmouth," Reiff said. Which, I think, are technically fish, not babes in bikinis still out floating around from the Jobbie Nooner.

"The water in Michigan is beautiful," Reiff said. "It's great fishing."

Before the NFL Combine, some considered Reilly to be a top 15 pick, but he slipped to the Lions at 23 because, some say, he has short arms for a left tackle.

"Reilly is just a hard-nosed, tough, competitive guy," said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz.

Ferentz said he believes the Lions got a steal. Ferentz said that if Reilly would have stayed for his senior year, he would have been a top eight pick. "He is going to get even better as a pro," Ferentz said. "His best football is ahead of him."

Reiff roomed with James Ferentz, the coach's son, for three years at Iowa. He said Reiff liked to do two things: fish and watch game film. When they were freshmen, the two roommates got into a fight. "He killed me," James Ferentz said. "I can't hang with him."

So James Ferentz did the logical thing: He never got into a fight with him again, and he gave Reiff whatever he wanted, including the bottom bunk in their dorm.

"That year was one of the best years of my life," Reiff said.

Reiff turned down a chance to go to New York City for the draft because, well, there are way too many traffic lights. He stayed at his parents' home in South Dakota because his grandfather, Lloyd Reiff, is fighting lung cancer and wasn't doing so good. But he keeps hanging in there.

"My grandfather told me he wanted to make it to the bowl game," Reiff said. "Then, he wanted to make it to the draft. Now, he wants to watch my first pro game."

'A smart guy'

Reiff started training camp working with the third team. He got some snaps with the first team Saturday and worked at right tackle with the second string Sunday. He also played left guard at Iowa.

"He's a smart guy, been well coached," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "He is going through things for the first time, and there is going to be a learning curve for him, but he's doing well."

Reiff was a little overwhelmed during minicamp, but he is starting to feel comfortable.

Even driving around in an area with so many traffic lights.

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