At the University of Iowa, highly recruited offensive lineman Riley Reiff showed us his quickness, agility and that “mean streak” that NFL offensive coordinators love during his first week on campus as a freshman.
It was “Rush” week, and Reiff was found in downtown Iowa City in a state of certain intoxication and a state of undisclosed undress by police. The 18-year old led police on a spirited 20 minute foot chase before being hauled off to the hoosegow on two misdemeanor charges. Kid’s got some serious wheels!
As a draft analyst, I would have enjoyed grading the film on this Keystone Kops caper. Suffice it to say that Reiff had to display strength, stamina, speed and agility on that occasion.
Mending fences with Iowa head coach Kirk Firentz and the good citizens of Iowa City, Reiff was red shirted as a freshman. Reiff stepped right into the Hawkeyes starting left tackle role in 2009 and never looked back.
Reiff, a red shirt junior, declared for the 2012 NFL draft. This class of offensive linemen was talent rich at every position. Nevertheless, Reiff would be the second offensive lineman taken overall. Detroit drafted Reiff with the 23rd pick in the first round.
Watching game film on Reiff, I questioned the fit for Reiff on Detroit’s predominately man-power blocking scheme where a premium is placed on strength and technique in combination blocks at the point of attack and the ability to pull to the opposite edge of the formation. A sophisticated scheme.
Reiff was primarily a “zone” blocker at Iowa, where the key requirements were speed and agility; two traits that Reiff possesses in abundance.
Watching Reiff in training camp every day showed me that he had all the tools necessary to step in at either tackle position, but was too raw to be considered an upgrade to LT Jeff Backus, or RT Gosder Cherilus.
First, Reiff had to make some adjustments to his footwork and technique on the right side, where he could no longer wait for the play to come to him as he could as a LT.
Then there was the flaw in allowing rushers to attack his inside shoulder, where he would quickly lose his leverage to a swim, or spin move. Reiff was proving to be a project, albeit a project worth pursuing.
But Reiff proved to be a quick study in training camp. He’d cleaned up his technique and footwork over the span of 10 days to the point where I could pronounce him NFL ready.
Reiff has been moved inside at RG where he proved that he had the ability to “play in a phone booth.” Reiff’s stock continued to rise during the preseason. He quietly emerged as a top-flight run blocking specialist.
The only question that remained was how Reiff would be used in Detroit’s offense once the regular season began. As a first round draft pick, there was the reasonable expectation that Reiff would be an immediate impact starter at RT, or RG.
However, this expectation was not to be immediately realized. This was not so much an indictment on Reiff’s readiness as it was the sad state of Detroit’s running backs. The loss of dynamic play maker Jahvid Best along with the nagging injuries to Mikel LeShoure, who would also serve a two game suspension never allowed Reiff to prove his worth as a road grader in the run game. A role at which he excels.
Reiff played only four snaps through the first three games. All of them were short yardage situations where Reiff was a solid contributor in moving the line of scrimmage.
Reiff did get the start in Week 4 against Minnesota blocking for RBs Mikel LeShoure and Joique Bell. But the Lions fell behind early and largely abandoned the run game where Reiff would play only five snaps.
After the bye week, Reiff’s role was expanded in the Week 6 win in Philadelphia. Reiff played 25 of 73 offensive snaps, but was used in some creative ways, often lining up as a blocking tight end on the right side.
Reiff allowed one QB pressure, but proved to be an asset in the run offense. Reiff's performance helped the Lions to their highest yards per carry (4.9 YPC) of the season. He wasn’t penalized for a false start either. Now, isn’t that a refreshing change?
OK, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan has kicked the tires on Reiff and has to like what he sees. Whether by design, or not, Linehan has to find an expanded role for Reiff, if only to reduce the recent plague of penalties being generated by the offensive line.
With an important Week 7 game coming up against the Bears in Chicago, Detroit will need Reiff’s road grading abilities in order to keep the NFL’s top ranked run defense honest.
If Reiff can tip the scales at the line of scrimmage in the run game, QB Matthew Stafford will survive another encounter with Bears DE Julius Peppers and find that targeting the running backs in a quick-release passing game could be a winning recipe.
Rookie Riley Reiff’s time has come.