Allen Park — Frank Ragnow is no stranger to injury, but they never get any easier.
A severe ankle sprain sidelined him at the end of his senior season in college, and he missed some time because of a Laryngeal fracture in 2020, as well as the final 13 games last year because of a toe injury.
More than the physical pain, there are mental hurdles Ragnow has had to overcome each time, primarily the feeling he’s letting his teammates down. So when he felt a pop in his groin halfway through Wednesday’s practice, his mind raced.
“Wednesday, I was pretty down, not gonna lie, after last year’s deal,” Ragnow said. “I was pretty upset. But it wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected initially, so that was good.
“…It’s frustrating, right?” Ragnow said. “You really, really, really want to be out there. I think (former Lions quarterback Matthew) Stafford said one time he was pretty banged up before we played the Tennessee Titans, I think in 2020, and I saw some quote that was like, ‘It’s Sunday, I’m the quarterback for the Detroit Lions, and I’m going to do everything I can to be out there.’
“That really impacted me. That’s how I want to approach it. I want to be out there, so it’s frustrating. But, I trust the medical staff and I trust the coaches that they know what’s best for me.”
And while Ragnow is not out of the woods — officially ruled as questionable for Sunday’s season opener — there’s reason for optimism after he returned to practice on Friday, in a limited capacity.
With or without Ragnow, the Lions already have to replace one starting offensive lineman this week after placing right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai (back) on injured reserve. So far, the team has kept that plan there under wraps.
In addition to the status of the two starting linemen, the Lions officially ruled out backup guard Tommy Kraemer (back) and defensive lineman Levi Onwuzurike (back). Safety Ifeatu Melifonwu (hamstring) is doubtful for the game against the Eagles, while linebacker Julian Okwara (hamstring) is questionable.
An area of focus
Earlier in the offseason, it was explained the Lions wide receivers were each given an area of improvement to focus on heading into training camp. For example, Amon-Ra St. Brown was asked to work on doing more after the catch.
As it turns out, providing players clear areas to improve was a theme throughout the offensive side of the ball. On Friday, tight ends coach Tanner Engstrand explained the biggest priority for former Pro Bowler T.J. Hockenson was to get better as a run blocker.
“We wanted him to become a dominant run blocker, which, in my opinion, he really can be,” Engstrand explained. “I don’t think he gets enough credit for how well he blocks and his ability to do so. So that was one of the things we really wanted to stress with him, at the point of attack, becoming a player that we can really rely on and run behind when needed.
Coming out of Iowa, Hockenson was viewed as a dual-threat tight end, but he’s gained more recognition as a pass catcher during his first three seasons. By improving his blocking, he has a chance to move into the league’s upper echelon at the position, joining the likes of mentor George Kittle and Mark Andrews.
Strong early impression
Lions coach Dan Campbell acknowledged early in training camp the team was on the hunt for more girth along the defensive line. It wasn’t until after camp concluded the team found it, claiming 316-pound defensive tackle Benito Jones off waivers from the Miami Dolphins at the end of last month.
Jones has only had a handful of practices with the Lions, but so far, Campbell has liked what he’s seen.
“Listen, we’ve been pleased with him,” Campbell said. “He’s going to prove to be a good pickup for us. We have no regrets right now. I mean he’s come in and worked. I mean, he belongs here. He’s smart, he’s got natural leverage, a quick first step. He’s (also) pretty powerful.
“…It was a big move for us I think getting him.”
An undrafted free agent out of Ole Miss in 2020, Jones has played sparingly in two seasons with the Dolphins. But he is coming off a strong preseason with the team, tallying seven tackles, two for a loss, and five quarterback pressures.