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Center Raiola optimistic about Lions' offensive line

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Dominic Raiola is well-versed in the lackluster reputation of a Detroit Lions offensive line he has helped anchor for the past six years.

He runs through the numbers effortlessly, highlighting the NFL-worst 63 sacks the Lions allowed in 2006 while also recalling Detroit ranked last in the league with only 1,129 team rushing yards.

The veteran center has been around long enough to know what people have come to expect from an offensive line that is constantly in a state of change.

"We haven't been good around here, especially at (the offensive line) position," Raiola said after Wednesday's training camp practice. "Our M.O. is that we're going to fail eventually - that's what people are waiting to see from us."

But Raiola, who, along with tackle Jeff Backus, is entering his seventh year, feels like this may be the year Detroit's offensive line finally turns things around. Raiola's optimism comes on the heels of a year when coach Rod Marinelli fired offensive line coach Larry Beightol despite saying he was pleased with the line's development and that Raiola had put together the best year of his career.

He said he understands how the business of professional football works, knowing he can't allow himself to take such personnel moves personally.

"I've been around five offensive line coaches," Raiola said. "So I guess you just have to evaluate yourself and (think), 'What did I do to contribute to that guy's job?' That's all you can do and make sure you're doing the most you can."

Now working under first-year offensive line coach Jim Colletto, Raiola looks at those who surround him, counting the collection of linemen that will make up the Lions front five among the best he's played with. There's Backus, a former first-round selection out of Michigan, Pro Bowler Damien Woody, who's been part of the Lions' line since 2004 and former first-round draft pick George Foster, acquired in a trade from Denver, which limited its opponents to 31 sacks last season.

With more help around him, Raiola enters the season the most excited he's been, confident of the things the line can accomplish. Raiola has maintained a businesslike approach to training camp this year, even avoiding the kind of scraps he used to get into with defensive end Cory Redding.

"I think he took the same anger management classes I took this offseason," Redding said. "But the whole attitude of the offensive and defensive line has changed. We can't fight each other - we have to fight the opponent."

Still, Raiola knows nothing will change officially until the line proves itself on the field.

"I think we finally have the right people in here," Raiola said. "It looks good on paper, but after struggling every year, we have to go out and do something with (the talent)."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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