ALLEN PARK – If a regular NFL coach suggested transferring Frank Ragno or Benny Sewell to the right-hander just days before the season opens, it might be wise to consider that as a gaming skill. Another layer of tricks to keep the opponent off-balance at the start of the season.
But there’s nothing regular about Dan Campbell, and that’s especially true behind the microphone. He’s more outspoken than most of his classmates, and has earned a reputation for being much more likely to say anything but say something untrue. To that end, he’s probably getting really serious when he says he’s considering replacing injured right-hand guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai with his All-Pro center, or maybe even his budding right tackle.
Sewell was surely taking shots in the right guard when the drill opened just a few minutes later.
“Listen, I love this O-line, and I still love this O-line,” Campbell said. “Definitely losing Big V would hurt, he’s been rock solid for us, and he’s a great team guy. But I still love where we are. Look, just as a player and coach, the O line, as long as you have a group of players who know how to work together, they’re strong, and they’re Smart, you can achieve great things. And we still have a lot of that out there. So we’ll be fine.”
Faytay was transferred to the injured reserve this week after playing through back pain in Pittsburgh. This is a blow to an attacking line that has faced huge expectations for over a year, yet has not once played together due to a string of injuries to Taylor Decker, Rajno and now Vaytay.
Complicating the photo is that Tommy Kraemer, the backup listed on Vaitai, was not exercising on Wednesday. Logan Stenberg is the only other goalkeeper on the bench, although if he were to start against Philadelphia, it would likely happen in the left guard. This would force Pro Bowler Jonah Jackson to slip into the right guard.
Another option is under consideration: the introduction of Evan Braun into the lineup in the middle, which would transfer Ragnow to the right guard. Ragnow has never played this position before, but he was instrumental in the left guard as a rookie in 2018.
Another option: to include Matt Nelson in the lineup on the right tackle, which, yes, would allow Sewell to slip into the right keeper. Sewell had never played a guard at the college or professional level, but he held up well last year when Decker’s injury forced him to switch to left-handed tackle just days before his NFL debut. At 20, he became the youngest left tackle in league history, and he also held up well – and did so against Nick Bossa.
“(Offensive line coach Hank Fraley) is always dealing with these guys,” Campbell said. “They play multiple positions, so we’ll be ready.”
While this game of musical chairs up front isn’t the way the Lions expected to open the season in their best position, it does at least keep the Eagles in the dark about what to expect as well, especially given that Detroit has also changed its gameplay and charts.
“There are so many unknowns and challenges that the opening game will make you as a staff and as a player,” Eagles coach Nick Siriani said by phone on Wednesday. “Obviously there are things the Lions have been working on in the off-season, and they’ve been working on in their training camp, that we haven’t seen before. We understand that. Our process is, hey, we have to be ready to get out there and do what we launched, and be able to adapt. With new wrinkles we haven’t seen.”
The Lions also trained without defensive linebackers John Kominsky and Levi Onozuriki as they began fixing their game plan for the Eagles. The good news is the arrogant Julian Okwara and the safety of Ifeatu Melifonwu both are back after missing a lot of camp due to injuries.