In the two months since he suffered a fractured left index finger that sidelined him for the first half of the season, Taylor Decker had virtually everything about his football playing existence called into question.
His position. His toughness. His future with the Detroit Lions.
And he did not take kindly to one bit of it.
Decker, in his first comments since his injury, said in a video conference Monday he was annoyed by media and fan speculation he could be traded to clear room for Penei Sewell and by people questioning his ability to play through an injury that was more serious than most realized.
“Frankly, I feel like the narrative of negativity surrounding my name all year, pretty much, has been bullshit,” Decker said. “I don’t feel like it’s been deserved. I do feel like people within the building and I do feel like a lot of fans appreciate me and what I can do for this team. But yeah, the media pretty much all year has been pretty negative around me, so I’m not going to act like I like that. I think it was (expletive) bullshit. I’ve played a lot of football here and I think I’ve played well. So that’s that.”
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Decker suffered a spiral fracture in his left index finger in practice Sept. 8, four days before the Lions’ season-opening loss to the San Francisco 49ers, that he said “rotated and shortened.”
He had five screws and a plate put in his hand during September surgery, and after trying unsuccessfully to return in mid-October — two months ahead of his doctor’s three-month timeline for recovery — made his debut in Sunday’s 16-16 tie with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“They told me three months and I’m playing in two months,” Decker said. “And I did everything I could to try and be back out on the field and frankly, it was also insulting that people acted like I just didn’t want to play and wanted to be out for the entire season.
“So, yeah, having your hand’s really important and if you have one finger that’s not functional and if you have to cast it with a second one, and then you only have a ring finger and a pinky to grab people that are 275 pounds that run a 4.6, that’s hard to do. That’s hard to do. And even yesterday, my hand’s not at 100% yet but it’s tough. You need to be healthy. You can’t have things that are bothering you to play NFL football.
“And everybody’s banged up, but when it’s a legitimate injury and I’m told the timeline by the surgeon, I’m going to go with that timeline by the surgeon because they’re an expert at that, and a specialist at that, and that’s what they do.”
Decker was expected to lead what the Lions hoped would be one of the NFL’s premier offensive lines entering the season, but his injury prompted the Lions to move Sewell, a 2021 first-rounder, from right to left tackle.
Sewell played well enough early in the season that 49ers pass rusher Nick Bosa and NFL Network analyst Joe Thomas, a future Hall of Fame lineman, among others, suggested the Lions should keep Sewell at left tackle and move Decker to the right side when he returned.
The Lions, initially, were noncommittal about where Decker would play upon his return, and Decker said his parents, friends and neighbors asked him about talk radio speculation he could be traded as part of the organization’s rebuild.
Decker, 28, is in the first year of a four-year, $60 million contract extension he signed last summer.
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“Having to sit down and have a conversation with my dad that it’ll be OK if something were like that to happen, even though it’s not going to,” Decker said. “And my friends calling me, worried. I’m like, ‘I’m playing in the NFL, it’s OK’. But having my parents call, my parents be concerned and them upset, and my friends and my family, and people in my neighborhood that I see outside when I’m walking my dogs to just have to deal with all that. When as far as I understand, there was zero possibility of me not being a Detroit Lion this year.
“It’s just really frustrating and I feel like a lot of those articles are being written for clicks and being grandiose and over the top, and I don’t understand — and I never will understand why there was so much negativity surrounding me and my name. I don’t feel like it was deserved whatsoever.”
Decker, coming off his best season, spent more than a month on injured reserve after surgery. He initially tried to return Oct. 13, and took part in individual drills that day, but said he lasted one play of team drills on Day 2 of his return before realizing he needed more rest.
“I tried to come back early and my hand was casted up and I played one play of practice and team and did something to the UCL joint and the knuckle, but we couldn’t see it on the MRI because there’s so much metal in there that you can’t read the MRI,” he said. “But my hand blew it up. It was very swollen. I lost all the mobility that I had gained in my hand. Then at that point it’s like, ‘All right, we need to let this thing calm down and then we’ll try again, get you back out there.’
“So that’s what we did and I think it was the smart thing to do instead of trying to rush it, cause when I went back and saw the surgeon she said you should probably give it a couple weeks or you could cause permanent damage, or break it again.”
Decker said he has “decent mobility” in his hand now, but there remains a 50-pound discrepancy in grip strength between his left and right hands.
He helped lead the Lions’ season-high 229-yard rushing day Sunday against the Steelers and said he sees the unit, now with four of its five projected starters in place – Pro Bowl center Frank Ragnow is out for the season after undergoing toe surgery – being a “bully out there on the field” for the foreseeable future.
“I think Penei’s played awesome,” Decker said. “I love that kid. I love the guys in our room. They’re great. And he’s going to be a hell of a player for a long time. We’ve got a lot of good guys that are good teammates in that room and it’s a fun room to be a part of. Obviously, it was my first time being out there yesterday and playing with everybody, but the energy and the confidence that we have as a group up front is pretty impressive and I think we can be a good group for years to come.”
Contact Dave Birkett at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.