The Detroit Lions believe the center is one of the most important positions on the field and have invested accordingly, spending a first-round pick on Frank Ragnow in 2018.
The early returns on that investment have been promising. Ragnow made tremendous strides in his second season and looks to be a long-term building block for the franchise.
He’s also been highly durable. Ragnow has missed just one game in two seasons, when a concussion sidelined him for a Week 12 matchup with Washington last year.
But in that instance, the Lions had Graham Glasgow, an experienced option to step in and fill the void. He departed this offseason, taking a big-money offer from the Denver Broncos in free agency. That left the Lions with two voids to fill, not only a starting guard, but also Ragnow’s backup.
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“The backup center position is one that I think is completely underrated,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “It’s kind of like your backup long snapper, it’s not important until it’s important.”
The Lions don’t have an obvious solution on the roster, so for the first couple days of camp they’ve been rolling through a number of possibilities. Among the players who have been snapping in practice are Joe Dahl, Kenny Wiggins and rookies Logan Stenberg and Jonah Jackson.
Dahl, a college tackle who transitioned to guard after he was drafted by the Lions in the fifth round in 2016, got some preseason reps at center a year ago. Wiggins also has some preseason experience in the role. And Jackson played six games at center as a sophomore at Rutgers in 2017.
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“When we have the time, which is now, even though we’re pushed, you do try to make as many different scenarios where you can see if guys can handle it,” Patricia said. “Certainly, from the center position, with as much as is put on that position…you certainly want to get guys in those scenarios as much as possible.
“I think those guys have done a really good job. I think they’ve all really mixed in there without missing a beat. I’d say the most impressive part of all of it has been the communication. I don’t think we’ve had any communication problems. Maybe some of the fundamental snaps and some of the movement skills there still need to be improved, and I would say it’s a little bit more difficult up under center, so we’re trying to get some of those as much as we can.”
The Lions have under four weeks, without the benefit of preseason games, to figure it out. The team is scheduled to open the season against the Chicago Bears on Sept. 13.