For Lions’ Raiola, experience trumps ability

ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Dominic Raiola thinks he has the secret to longevity in the NFL.

“I’ve got these little pills,” Raiola said, smiling. “Ever seen that movie Limitless?”

In the movie, a man takes a drug that changes his life by allowing his brain to work like never before.

“I’m going to keep plugging away until this engine dies,” Raiola said.

Raiola, who turns 34 on the final day of the regular season, has been the Lions’ starting center since 2002. He is one of the locker-room spokesmen, entering his 12th season in the NFL.

“One day someone’s going to play center other than me here,” he said. “We don’t worry about that.

“There’s always somebody coming up that’s bigger, faster, stronger, better than you. When that day comes, it will come.”

The Lions’ starting offensive line remains intact for the 2012 season although first-round draft pick Riley Reiff is expected to push for playing time at either tackle or guard.

Raiola knows the time is coming when the Lions bring in someone to compete for his job, just like they’ve done with some of his teammates by adding Reiff.

But the club did not draft a center this year.

However, when that does happen, possibly as early as 2013, Raiola knows how he’ll respond.

“I’m not just going to lay down and say, ‘Here you go, here’s your job,” he said. “I came in and had to battle for my job. I’ll be damned to just lay down and let somebody take mine.

“You’ve got to go out there and prove it. If it happens, it happens. I’m pretty confident in my ability to still go out and do my job.”

Raiola plays a position where experience can offset size, strength and agility, at least for a while.

He believes the continuity on the Lions’ offensive line will be a valuable asset going into the fall.

Raiola is joined by left tackle Jeff Backus, left guard Rob Sims, right guard Stephen Peterman and right tackle Gosder Cherilus.

Raiola, Backus, Sims and Peterman started every game last season. Cherilus missed one start.

“Continuity is a big thing,” Raiola said. “I always believed in it. All the good lines that play together have it.

“I think playing next to the same guy helps out a lot. Just knowing what Stephen’s going to do or Rob’s going to do, then knowing what Jeff or Gos is going to do, that helps out a lot.

“Offensive line, it’s not only you’ve got to be good at what you do (and) smart at what you do, but you’ve got to trust the guy next to you. That’s one of the unique things about our position. Everybody’s got to be doing the right thing to make a play go.”

Raiola knows there’s one area in particular that the line needs to do a better job. The Lions ranked 29th out of 32 teams in the NFL last season in rushing. They averaged just 95.2 yards rushing per game. Jahvid Best, despite missing more than half the season because of concussion problems, still led the team  in rushing with 390 yards.

“The big issue is running the ball,” Raiola said. “We need to run the ball better. We know that.”

Maybe some of those special pills will help.