ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions spent $76 million to upgrade their offensive line this offseason, but when they open training camp in July their biggest question mark will be the group protecting quarterback Matthew Stafford up front.
Starting left tackle Taylor Decker underwent shoulder surgery last week and is expected to miss at least the start of the regular season, and right guard T.J Lang still hasn't practiced with the team because of January hip surgery.
The Lions knew full well Lang would be out until summer when they signed him to a three-year, $28.5 million deal in March, but they've been left to scramble for a replacement for Decker, a player they believe will be a franchise left tackle in due time, after he suffered a spring injury.
On the last day of minicamp Thursday, the Lions added two new faces to their left tackle mix, signing Cyrus Kouandjio as a free agent and trading a 2018 sixth-round draft pick to the Los Angeles Rams for Greg Robinson.
Both Kouandjio, a second-round pick by the Buffalo Bills in 2014 who's coming off his own January hip surgery, and Robinson, the No. 2 overall pick of the same draft, are candidates to start Week 1 at left tackle, though their pock-marked resumes leave plenty to be desired.
Robinson lost his starting left tackle job this offseason amid questions about his love for the game, and Kouandjio was waived in May after a series of bizarre off-field incidents.
Along with Robinson and Kouandjio, fourth-year pro Cornelius Lucas and 2016 fifth-round pick Joe Dahl will compete for the left tackle job this fall. Corey Robinson, the team's swing tackle last year, could be in the mix, too, though his status for the start of training camp is unclear as he recovers from January foot surgery.
"I don't think there's any question that the competitiveness of the group is heightened (by the additions of Kouandjio and Greg Robinson)," Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said. "I think we feel good about it in terms of how we're shaping up, anyway. I just think it's going to be a situation where we're going to improve. Anytime you can get a position that improves a significant amount in this league, one percent, two percent is big in this league, that's what we're interested in."
Even with questions about the offensive line, the Lions feel good about the rest of their team heading into summer. Stafford is entering his second full season in coordinator Jim Bob Cooter's offense and talking about being more aggressive downfield. Running back Ameer Abdullah is ahead of schedule in his return from a foot injury that cost him most of last year. And the Lions, though they lack an abundance of playmakers on defense, have the depth to make them a contender on that side of the ball.
"We're trying to get better as quickly as we possibly can," Caldwell said. "I think our guys have been functioning that way in terms of their sense of urgency, how they practice, how they prepare and I think this is just in line with our thinking."
--Greg Robinson called his trade from the Rams to the Lions "refreshing" and said he's looking forward to a fresh start with a new team after three rocky seasons with the Rams.
Robinson played both left guard and left tackle as a rookie and started most of the last two years at tackle, but had worked as a backup right tackle much of this spring.
Caldwell said he's "not concerned" about why Robinson never lived up to his draft billing, and Robinson admitted things "haven't really went the way I would like" to this point in his career.
"I think at this point besides all the negative, (I'm) just trying to improve as much as possible," Robinson said. "And that's all I can offer."
--The Lions waived long snapper Jimmy Landes, a sixth-round pick in 2016, as part of their moves Thursday to clear roster spots for Robinson and Kouandjio. In cutting Landes, they made Don Muhlbach their long snapper for the 14th straight season.
"Muhlbach is our guy and that's where we are at this point," Caldwell said. "And he's been great for us. He hasn't been good, hasn't been average, he's been great. That's the reason why he's with us."