NFL Wire News

Lions confident in rookie center Swanson


ALLEN PARK, Mich. — As the Detroit Lions prepare for their most important regular-season game since the turn of the century, they have to do so without their longest-tenured player. Ironman center Dominic Raiola is suspended for Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers with the NFC North title on the line after stomping on Bears defensive tackle Ego Ferguson last week.

Instead of having Raiola play for the chance to win his first division title in 14 years with the Lions, rookie Travis Swanson will make his first start at center against a Green Bay team that had seven sacks last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Swanson started three games this season when left guard Larry Warford was out with a knee injury, but his experience pales in comparison to Raiola, who started 99 straight games and 203 in his career. This will be Matthew Stafford’s first start with a center other than Raiola.

“He has 14 years of experience under his belt, and you can’t replace that with a guy who’s going to be young,” Stafford said. “But Swanny’s gotten a chance to learn under Dom for quite some time now, and from the mental aspect of it, there are few guys in the league who are better than Dom, if any.”

The Lions, though, have confidence in the rookie. Swanson regularly works with the first-team offense as Raiola takes off practice plays due to his veteran status. And even though Swanson had some snapping issues in training camp and the preseason, backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky said he hasn’t fumbled one in four months in practice.

“He’ll be fine, man,” Orlovsky said. “Swanny’s a good player, and he’s easy to take snaps from, which people overlook as not important. It’s a big deal when playing quarterback when you can put your hands under somebody — I know that sounds a little graphic — and not have to think about it. When you have to put your hands down there and think about it, you don’t think about so many other things, and we have enough to think about.”

On a teleconference Tuesday, Packers coach Mike McCarthy was unsure of how losing Raiola would impact the Lions.

“I don’t know that. I’m sure time will tell,” he said. “Our personnel department really liked Travis Swanson coming out. He’s also been playing in their OT packages. He looks like he’s definitely a young player that has a future in front of him.”

McCarthy offered more praise of Swanson, noting the interior lineman’s ability to play as a sixth offensive lineman in some of the Lions’ run packages.

“He’s a good football player,” McCarthy said. “His size, he looks like he’s definitely in control. … The fact that your backup center is out there playing the tight-end position I think says a lot about him.”

SERIES HISTORY: This is the 169th regular-season meeting between the Packers and Lions. The Packers lead the series, 94-67-7. This will be the first time since 1993 that two 11-win teams will play with a division championship on the line. The Cowboys beat the Giants, 16-13, in overtime and went on to win the Super Bowl.

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