Frank Ragnow thought he could tough out the toe injury he suffered early this season, and when that proved impossible, the Detroit Lions‘ Pro Bowl center gained a new appreciation for some of his football-playing colleagues.
“I gained a lot of respect for dudes who fight through injuries throughout their career,” Ragnow said Monday. “Cause you’re a warrior on Sundays, man. When you’re in those pads you feel unstoppable, and to be out there in some gym shorts and just watching the guys, it’s a humble feeling. And to get that side of it, that perspective will probably be a blessing for me in the future. But it was definitely really hard.”
Ragnow missed the final 13 games of the season after undergoing October surgery to repair a torn plantar plate in his foot.
He said he initially tried to play through the injury, but quickly realized doing so left him a shell of the player he was his first three NFL seasons.
Ragnow started the Lions’ Week 4 loss to the Chicago Bears, but left after one series, when he snapped the ball prematurely off quarterback Jared Goff’s leg for a fumble in the red zone.
“Pain-wise, I think because it completely ruptured, at first I thought that I could completely deal with it cause there wasn’t much pain,” Ragnow said. “But from a functional, a balance and a movement standpoint, it was very unrealistic for me to think that I could be the player that I could be and that was what was so frustrating to me cause I felt like I could tolerate it pain-wise.”
Ragnow has missed time with injuries dating back to college. His final season at Arkansas was cut short by an ankle sprain that required surgery, and missed games as a Lion with a brain injury in 2019 and a fractured throat cartilage in 2020.
But Ragnow said his extended absence this season was especially tough to deal with mentally.
He underwent surgery days after the Bears game and rehabbed primarily out of the Lions’ Allen Park practice facility.
He still attended many meetings and practices, and watched helplessly as the Lions shuffled through more injuries and COVID-19-related absences on their offensive line.
Every Lions offensive line starter missed at least one game this season, and the Lions played three different players at center in Ragnow’s absence: Evan Brown, Ryan McCollum and left guard Jonah Jackson.
“It’s frustrating,” Ragnow said. “But if you look around it really happens everywhere. I mean, I think it really honestly comes down to luck some years if some teams don’t get hurt. It’s frustrating, but it’s part of it. It’s a violent, physical game and for mine, it wasn’t even a violent, physical play that happened. And it’s annoying, it’s frustrating, it doesn’t always make sense but it is what it is.”
Ragnow said he did some straight-line running Monday for the first time since surgery and is “right on schedule or a little bit ahead of schedule” with his rehab.
He is expected to be a full participant in the Lions offseason program later this spring, and remains a key cog in an offensive line that is expected to return its top six players for 2022.
“I’m going to be able to have a normal offseason, I think,” he said. “By a month from now, I should be normal. Hopefully, right, if everything goes well, but also the blessing is, there’s no rush now that we have the offseason. But a month from now, everything should be normal.”
The Lions signed nine players to reserve/future contracts Monday: Quarterback Steven Montez, tight end Shane Zylstra, receiver Javon McKinley, cornerbacks Parnell Motley and Saivion Smith, offensive tackle Dan Skipper, linebacker Tavante Beckett and defensive linemen Bruce Hector and Eric Banks. All nine were on the Lions practice squad. … The Lions also activated outside linebacker Austin Bryant from the reserve/COVID-19 list.