With ‘survivor’s guilt’ behind him, Frank Ragnow ready to lead Detroit Lions OL again

Detroit Free Press

As much as he hated it at the time, Frank Ragnow admits now that undergoing toe surgery last October was the right move for his career.

Ragnow has been a regular participant in Detroit Lions practices since the spring and has shown no residual from the torn plantar plate that prematurely ended his season in 2021.

“It feels good,” Ragnow said Tuesday. “Obviously last year was really, really, really frustrating. It’s really hard to explain not being out there. It’s almost like survivor’s guilt. Your guys are all out there battling and you’re kind of stuck there, especially with a frickin’ toe. So it was very, very frustrating but I’m happy to be back. It feels normal again.”

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Ragnow injured his foot on the Lions’ first offensive play of an October loss to the Chicago Bears when he “just stepped and it popped.”

He tried playing through the injury, and stayed on the field for the final 10 snaps of the series. But after an errant snap led to a fumble in the red zone, Ragnow limped off the field and pulled himself out of the game.

Lions coach Dan Campbell said last fall Ragnow initially was reluctant to undergo surgery and briefly explored a rest and rehab plan.

Coaches and doctors encouraged Ragnow to undergo surgery.

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“I really had no option at the end of the day,” Ragnow said. “Definitely getting the surgery’s going to benefit my career on the long run, but also, (not getting it) wasn’t really as much of an option as you guys might think. I don’t think I would have been quite the player out there. I couldn’t really balance at all.”

Health permitting, the Lions should have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL this season after their projected starting unit did not play a single snap together in 2021.

Left tackle Taylor Decker missed the first half of last season with a fractured finger, and by the time he returned Ragnow already was on injured reserve.

Decker also left a Week 18 win over the Green Bay Packers with a foot injury that lingered into the spring. The Lions held Decker out of one practice last week and another Wednesday for maintenance reasons, but the rest of the starting unit — Ragnow, left guard Jonah Jackson, right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai and right tackle Penei Sewell — has spent spring workouts and camp so far this summer side-by-side on the field.

“We felt like that was going to be one of our strengths last year and so to have all of those guys together, working together, it does, it give you a lot of confidence,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “Those guys up front now, they can move some people and they can do some things and they can pass protect, and they work well together. And so, yes, it’s a good feeling (to have everyone back).”

Campbell knocked on the lectern in front of him as he talked, knowing how fragile health in the NFL can be.

Decker played all but one game in the 2018-20 seasons before missing eight games last year. Ragnow was considered an ironman heading into last season, even returning from fractured cartilage in his throat to play late in 2020.

Campbell praised Ragnow’s toughness and intelligence Wednesday, and said he’s not “tapped out” yet from a growth standpoint. Eight days into training camp, he looks poised for a bounce-back year.

“He hasn’t missed a beat,” Campbell said. “He’s just back to good ol’ Frank. I mean, he just goes out there and he’s as steady as can be.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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