The Detroit Lions are discussing several different options to replace injured right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai in their starting lineup, including moving two first-round picks off their primary positions.
Lions coach Dan Campbell said he will use Wednesday’s practice to experiment with different lineups across the offensive line. One possibility, he said, is moving right tackle Penei Sewell to guard and playing Matt Nelson at tackle. Another is moving Pro Bowl center Frank Ragnow to right guard and letting Evan Brown play center.
“We’re exploring everything,” Campbell said. “We’re going to give a couple of different looks to guys today … and we may shuffle some things up but we’ll come up with the best combination that we feel like’s going to give us the best chance to win.”
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The Lions shuffled personnel on their offensive line before their season opener last year when Taylor Decker suffered a finger injury in practice that kept him out of the season’s first eight games.
Sewell, who spent all of training camp in 2021 playing right tackle, moved to left tackle and Nelson started at right tackle, with Sewell returning to the right side once Decker was healthy.
The idea, Campbell said at the time, was to get the best combination of five linemen on the field.
If the Lions take that approach again in Vaitai’s absence, Sewell could move inside for this week’s season-opener against the Philadelphia Eagles, where he would be matched up against top defensive tackles Javon Hargrave and Fletcher Cox.
Sewell did not play any snaps at guard last season or this summer, but worked at both right guard and right tackle during individual period Wednesday.
Ragnow, a Pro Bowler in 2020, played left guard as a rookie in 2018 but has been the Lions’ primary starting center the past three seasons. Brown played well in 12 fill-in starts at center last season when Ragnow was out with a foot injury.
The Lions also could play Tommy Kraemer at right guard, or move Pro Bowl left guard Jonah Jackson to right guard and have Logan Stenberg play left guard, Campbell said. Kraemer did not practice Wednesday, and Stenberg took reps at both left and right guard.
“(Playing) Logan would be one (option),” Campbell said. “Moving Frank over would be one. Obviously that would bump Evan up. And probably there is a chance that if it was Logan then we’d move Jonah to right and we’d bring Logan to left. We talk about Sewell bumping down to guard and Nelson going up to tackle, so we’ve got options here. And we’ve banked some — there’s not a ton of live reps with some of these guys but yet they’ve played it before. We always (at walk-through are) rolling those guys (in different positions). They play multiple positions so we’ll be prepared.”
Vaitai, the Lions’ primary starting right guard the past two seasons, suffered a back injury in the Lions’ preseason finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Campbell said Vaitai’s injury does not require surgery, but there is no current timetable for his return. The Lions placed Vaitai on injured reserve Monday, meaning he will miss at least the season’s first four games.
Asked if he had any regrets about playing his starters against the Steelers, when Vaitai and the rest of the starting offensive line played 29 snaps, Campbell said “no,” but added, “I hate it for him.”
“I really do,” he said. “I hate that.”