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Rams’ interest in Lions’ Larry Warford more evidence of his value

Peter King of Sports Illustrated was given access to the St. Louis Rams draft war room and he has reported (the full story is out Wednesday) the Rams had conversations about eventual Lions third-round pick Larry Warford as early as the first round.

After the Rams traded down eight spots to the 30th overall pick, their main target was Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree. But, as King reported, if Ogletree was gone, the backup plan was to draft either UCLA defensive end Datone Jones or Warford.

King makes it clear the Rams would not have drafted Warford at 30. They would have traded back into the second round and taken him there. That's still an indication the Rams, like the Lions, had Warford graded as the third-best interior lineman after first-round picks Chance Warmack and Jonathan Cooper.

So to get Warford, a 6-foot-3, 333-pound guard from Kentucky, with the 65th pick was a nice bonus for the Lions.

"He's a big man," Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said. "He's made 37 straight starts (against SEC competition), a highly, highly intelligent football player and really solid guy. … He's got some stuff to learn. He's got to clean some things up. But I think he's got a chance to compete as a starter."

Warford will compete for the right guard spot against Bill Nagy, a former Cowboys starter who spent last season on injured reserve, and veteran Dylan Gandy. Nagy and Gandy will also compete at center. The Lions are expected to add another veteran offensive lineman or two before the start of training camp.

But, as Mayhew said, Warford is a smart guy. He wasn't about to put the cart before the horse.

"I don't want to talk about me starting," Warford said. "I just want to come in and compete as hard as I can, keep working and hopefully learn from the best about playing in the NFL."

One of Mayhew's first moves after the season was to release veteran right guard Stephen Peterman. Center Dominic Raiola was given a pay cut and told his starting spot, which he has held for 11 seasons, would not be guaranteed.

Mayhew felt the interior of the offensive line was too soft, that quarterback Matthew Stafford was getting too much pressure right up the middle.

"Closest distance between two points is a straight line," coach Jim Schwartz said. "Those guys (defensive tackles) are closer to the quarterback. Most quarterbacks are going to try to step up to make throws and if somebody's charging at the middle, it makes it very difficult to do that. And then when you're throwing to the inside part of the field, inside pressure is tough to deal with as far as knock-down passes and things like that."

The Lions considered drafting a left tackle with the No. 5 pick and moving Riley Reiff, the team's first-round pick in 2012, to right guard. But the three top-rated tackles were off the board before the Lions picked.

Getting Warford in the third round, and keeping Reiff at left tackle, was a workable Plan B.

"I don't know if you can say 'Larry' without saying 'big' in front of it," Schwartz said. "He probably hasn't been just Larry since he was about five years old; he was Big Larry.

"This is another guy we had a chance to see at the Senior Bowl. We had a chance to be with him full-time and he was made to play guard in the NFL. He's a really thick, powerful guy, a good athlete for his size."

Some teams worried Warford might get too big to be effective at the NFL level. The Lions, who have a lot of faith in their strength and conditioning program, aren't sweating it.

"I think there are different kinds of guards," Mayhew said. "He's not that nifty, nimble guy that can get out in space. But we're going to do some of that with him. He's big enough and long enough to get a push on guys. So, that's not necessarily going to be his strength right away, but he's a young guy. He's got some upside and some ability to develop and continue to improve.

"He's a pretty solid player right now."

Warford has been working with former NFL center LeCharles Bentley at his offensive line academy in Avon, Ohio. Warford said Bentley has helped him change his diet and tone up his body.

"I don't have a specific ideal playing weight," Warford said. "If it was anything it would be around 330, 325. It's more my body composition that I've been trying to work on. Just changing the way my body is shaped helps me play a lot more and be more explosive.

"It will take a lot of wear off my body in the long run."

That said, Warford knows there isn't any kind of training he could do to change his nickname.

"Big Larry has been the universal nickname for me," he said. "I've been to 13 different schools (his father was in the military) and each one called me Big Larry, Big Larry. My name's Larry, you can call me Larry. It's a lot less syllables."

 



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