Ex-Cats

Lions’ Larry Warford pleased with progress, ‘a lot I can improve’

Detroit Lions guard Larry Warford (75) defends against Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Abry Jones (95) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016 in Detroit.
Detroit Lions guard Larry Warford (75) defends against Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Abry Jones (95) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016 in Detroit. AP

Larry Warford hasn’t given it much thought yet.

Too many other things to focus on right now, too much to accomplish.

But like the 13 others set to become unrestricted free agents on the Detroit Lions’ 53-man roster, Warford knows the reality: Sunday night’s game against the Green Bay Packers could be his last in a Lions uniform.

“I look at it just like another distraction,” the former Madison Central and University of Kentucky star said when asked about that possibility this week. “I don’t need to be thinking about my future as a Lion. If I want to set myself up, I’ve got to perform well week to week and this is the week I’ve got to perform well. So it’s not really on my mind as much as anyone would think.”

The Lions host the Packers at Ford Field in a battle of 9-6 teams that will decide the NFC North champion.

If the Lions win, they’ll host a playoff game, likely next week. If they lose, there’s a good chance their season will be over.

A third-round pick by the Lions in 2013, Warford has been a fixture at the right guard spot since his breakout rookie season.

He has played well when healthy throughout his career and was arguably the team’s best offensive lineman as a rookie, but he struggled with injuries in 2014-15 — he asks that you knock on wood when you remind him of that — before putting together a fine rebound season this fall.

“He’s been good and steady,” Lions Coach Jim Caldwell said. “Playing like a veteran. He’s seen a little bit of everything so there’s not too many things that get him out of whack. And he’s been working extremely hard to maintain his level of play.”

In the NFL, though, where players are routinely used and discarded for cheaper models and newer brands, that’s not always enough to earn a contract extension.

The Lions took three offensive linemen in this year’s draft, have started two most of this season — Taylor Decker at left tackle and Graham Glasgow at left guard/center — and might need to find a spot for the third (guard/tackle Joe Dahl) this offseason.

Right tackle Riley Reiff also is a pending free agent, and Warford said “it’s crazy” to think he and Reiff are the only two linemen still around from Warford’s rookie season.

“And there’s been numbers of guys in that room,” Warford said.

Reiff declined an interview request Thursday. If he’s down to his last game as a Lion, the team has another potential replacement waiting in the wings in second-year tackle Corey Robinson.

So far, the Lions and Warford’s agent have not had any meaningful conversions about a new contract, and Warford insists he hasn’t given any thought to where he wants to spend his future.

“I don’t see myself anywhere else at the moment,” Warford said.

“Of course (I like it here). It’s the team that drafted me. I built great relationships with the people around here. It’s all I know and definitely is special to me.”

Warford, always his harshest critic, admits that the injuries he dealt with the last two seasons were “really tough and it threw me off for a little bit there.”

But healthy now, he said he has found his level this year.

“Being able to consistently perform and be available to play this last year really, really helped me find my niche,” Warford said. “I just feel more consistent than I have been, a lot more consistent. I think a season I can be proud of, but like always there’s so much to improve on. So much. I’m my biggest critic, so I just know there’s a lot I can improve.”

Whether that’s enough for him to remain a Lion is yet to be determined, and something Warford said he won’t worry about until after the season is over, whenever that might be.

“Obviously, if you’re in a contract year and you’re performing well week by week, it’s going to fall into place,” Warford said. “You’re going to set yourself up for a good career in the NFL. That’s all you can ask for, whether it be with the Lions or not, I’ll see. But it’s not my primary focus by any means.”

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