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Published: Thursday, 7/31/2008

Lions' Foster, Cherilus competing for starting spot

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Guard Matt Butler, left, and tackle Gosder Cherilus listen as Lions offensive coordinator Jim Colletto explains a play. Guard Matt Butler, left, and tackle Gosder Cherilus listen as Lions offensive coordinator Jim Colletto explains a play.
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. - They're competing for a starting job, but the battle between Lions offensive tackles George Foster and Gosder Cherilus couldn't be more amicable.

Though coach Rod Marinelli said nothing's written in stone, it appears four of the starting spots on the line, which allowed 54 sacks last season, are set. That leaves Foster - a six-year veteran - and Cherilus - Detroit's first-round draft selection - to decide who will begin games at right tackle.

Jeff Backus, the dean of the line, has started 112 straight games at left tackle since the Lions selected him in the first round of the 2001 draft, and center Dominic Raiola has been a starter since his second season, a stretch of 96 games.

Stephen Peterman, who battled injuries early in his career, settled in as the starter at right guard last year while Edwin Mulitalo, a free agent who came from Baltimore after the 2006 season, started 15 games on the left side.

That leaves most of the attention on the right end of the line.

Tackle George Foster gets a break during a Lions practice yesterday at training camp in Allen Park, Mich. Tackle George Foster gets a break during a Lions practice yesterday at training camp in Allen Park, Mich.
CARLOS OSORIO / AP Enlarge

Foster, signed as a free agent from Denver before last season, was a starter early in the year but was benched after a rash of false-start penalties. Damien Woody moved from a guard spot to fill the starting job on the right side, but left for the New York Jets as a free agent during the offseason.

Though the 6-foot-5, 338-pound Foster played in all but one game, it was clear the Lions were looking to upgrade when they drafted Cherilus last spring with the 17th overall pick.

"It's not football without competition," Foster said after the Lions concluded a training camp session.

"Teams have to draft for what they feel they need and Gosder's a very good player."

If he wins the job, the 6-7, 319-pound rookie already will have plenty of knowledge stored away.

Much of it will be courtesy of the man whose job he's trying to take.

"I tell him every thing I know," Foster said of his rookie teammate. "I want to be the best I can be, and I'm sure he wants to be the best he can be.

"Any way I can help him, I'm going to help him. I'm fine with that."

So is Cherilus, who's spent his first NFL training camp soaking up as much as he can on and off the field.

"It makes you feel comfortable knowing you're getting a lot of help and support from your teammates and coaches," he said. "It helps so much."

His size has made for a handful of difficult transitions, so far, mostly with his footwork and hand placement. The latter has forced him to learn more of a crouch to keep edge rushers upright.

"Those things - the footwork and the hands - they'll come," Cherilus said. "But the key is stay disciplined and keep focused. If I do that, those things will get where they need to be."

Marinelli is content to give both players ample chance to shine before the staff makes a decision.

"I think it's an important message to your team," he said. "Guys have to earn it."

NOTES: Raiola was back on the field, a day after missing contact drills with a sore ankle. ... G Manny Ramirez (knee) and OT Chris Patrick (ankle) also missed practice. ... Detroit released WR Eric Fowler and signed P Eddie Johnson. ... Fans can get tickets for Saturday's "Black & Blue Fan Day" at metropolitan Detroit Wireless Giant stores beginning at noon tomorrow. Admission to the open practice, which begins here at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, is free but limited to the first 700 fans. ... Brock Olivo, a special-teams player from 1998-2001, is seeking the Republican nomination in Missouri's 9th Congressional district. ... The Lions said they will open practices to the general public on Aug. 11 and 12.



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