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Riley Reiff finds excitement a different kind of way on draft day

By Dave Birkett, Detroit Free Press –

NEW YORK — Riley Reiff didn’t pay much attention to his draft-day fall. He spent a good portion of Thursday night in the barn behind his Parkston, S.D., home, with no TV, waiting for whatever team wanted him to call.

When the Lions finally did at No. 23 in the first round, Reiff couldn’t have been more excited.

“Words can’t describe how happy I am right now,” Reiff said in a teleconference with Detroit reporters. “I’m super excited to be a Lion. I really can’t put into words what I’m actually feeling, but I’m excited. The Lion are a great team, and there’ll be great seasons ahead.”

With the draft’s top four defensive backs long gone by the time they were on the clock — cornerbacks Morris Claiborne and Stephon Gilmore and safety Mark Barron went in the top 10, and Cincinnati took Dre Kirkpatrick at No. 17 — the Lions decided to give their aging, underappreciated offensive line a boost with Reiff, the draft’s consensus second-best tackle.

Reiff can play either guard or tackle spot, and could eventually replace left tackle Jeff Backus as the blind-side protector for Matthew Stafford.

Backus, a first-round pick in 2001, has never missed a game in his 11 seasons but had two major injuries last year and turns 35 in September. He tore a pectoral muscle last summer while working out during the lockout and had surgery in January after ripping his biceps in the Lions’ playoff loss to the Saints.

In taking Reiff, the Lions passed on blue-chip guard prospect David DeCastro of Stanford, Georgia offensive lineman Cordy Glenn and Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus.

“We like the guys we have,” general manager Martin Mayhew said. “We have five quality starters. But it’s good to have a young guy in the pipeline with Riley’s talent level, so we’re excited about what Riley brings to the table.

“A little bit of a surprise he was even available. So he’s going to help our football team a lot.”

The Lions have taken an offensive tackle in each of the last four drafts, but Reiff is the first first-round lineman they’ve added since Gosder Cherilus went 17th overall in 2008.

A three-year starter at Iowa, Reiff played both tackle spots and left guard as a redshirt freshman in 2009 before taking over at left tackle permanently as a sophomore. He left school with one year of eligibility remaining and was projected as a top-10 pick for most the weeks leading up to the draft.

Last year, the Lions stopped another top-10 projection’s slide when they took defensive tackle Nick Fairley 13th overall.

While the Lions return their entire starting offensive line for the third straight season, Reiff could compete for playing time as a rookie.

“We’ll put them all out there and we’ll play,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. “Their play in training camp and the off-season program, the OTAs and the preseason games, that will determine those things, not anything we’re thinking right now.”

Long before the draft began, the Lions explored possible trade-up scenarios with an eye on adding help for their thin secondary.

But those moves became moot when a wild first round featured an early run on defensive backs.

The Colts and Redskins drafted Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III first and second overall, respectively, as had been expected for months.

Luck is the fourth straight quarterback to go No. 1, joining Carolina’s Cam Newton (last year), St. Louis’ Sam Bradford (2010) and Stafford, whom the Lions took first three years ago.

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