With Joe Dahl ready to return, Detroit Lions have decisions to make on OL

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
| Detroit Free Press

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The Detroit Lions are close to getting an injured starter back on their offensive line, but coach Matt Patricia was noncommittal Wednesday about whether that player will remain a starter when he returns.

The Lions designed left guard Joe Dahl, running back Bo Scarbrough and cornerback Michael Ford to return from injured reserve Wednesday, starting a 21-day practice window during which they can be elevated to the active roster.

Dahl started the Lions’ season-opening loss to the Chicago Bears at left guard, and made 13 starts at the position last season, but the Lions have been mostly happy with their offensive line play the past two games.

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Rookie Jonah Jackson moved from right to left guard and has been the Lions’ best rookie in the first quarter of the season. Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who the Lions signed to a five-year, $50 million free agent contract this offseason, took over at right guard after initially being ticketed to play right tackle. And Tyrell Crosby stayed at right tackle, where he opened the season when Vaitai was out with a foot injury.

Jackson is entrenched as a starter, along with center Frank Ragnow and left tackle Taylor Decker. Crosby has been solid at right tackle. And the Lions did not give Vaitai $50 million to ride the bench.

All of that leaves the Lions in a conundrum when sorting out playing time on their offensive line.

“I think it’s great for us to have our guys healthy and get back out there and compete,” Patricia said. “Certainly, Joe has been working really hard to get back on the field and he’s got to get out there and practice and kind of get back into the swing of things, but we know how good of a guard he is and we know how good of a player he is for us, but it’s great to have great players.”

Patricia said in September he had no formal stance on injured players retaining their starting spots when they return.

“I guess it’s probably case-by-case, to be honest with you,” he said. “I think we always kid about Wally Pipp, right? Isn’t that the famed story? But I think there’s a lot of situations where guys are established starters or established roles on the team and we get them back healthy and we get them back into their role and we go from there.”

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Eventually, that could mean Dahl returns to left guard, with Jackson sliding to right guard, Vaitai taking over at tackle and Crosby playing the swing tackle role he was ticketed for entering the year, though Patricia said the plan is to take things slowly with all the Lions’ injured players this week.

“I would say with that overall, you still always want to be safe with return-to-play guys, especially in contact sports where they haven’t had that maybe repetitive contact or any of those situations yet,” Patricia said. “You’ve just got to get through practice, take it day by day and see what it looks like.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Lions content. 

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