The Detroit Lions are dealing with enough injuries to one concentrated part of their offense — the running game — that coach Dan Campbell admitted Friday “it changes what we do a little bit.”
“Just the style that which we need to play,” Campbell said. “You just, we’ll have to shift the burden a little bit to other places or the load to other places on our team, which is OK. That’s what we got to do. That’s what we’re charged with.”
Already down right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai indefinitely following back surgery, the Lions could be without their entire interior offensive line plus running back D’Andre Swift for Sunday’s game against the Washington Commanders.
Center Frank Ragnow missed his third straight practice Friday with toe and groin injuries — he missed most of last season following toe surgery — and left guard Jonah Jackson was out for the second straight day with an injury to his right ring finger. Jackson injured his hand in practice Wednesday and wore a splint on the digit Friday.
Swift returned to practice on an extremely limited basis Friday after missing the previous two days with a sprained ankle. He downplayed his injury in an interview Wednesday with the Free Press.
“That kid, man, he wants to be out there every down. Every down,” running backs coach Duce Staley said. “You see his excitement on the sideline, you get a chance to go pull up a TV copy and when he comes out, it’s not like he’s upset, he’s just feeling it, he’s in the moment and every day at practice he’s like that. I know y’all get the calm, cool, ‘Little Model’ D’Andre walking around — that’s what I call him, ‘Little Model,’ you get that. But I try to turn it up a little bit. I get a little different approach.”
Swift led the Lions with a career-high 144 yards rushing on 15 carries in last week’s 38-35 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, when he played the second half of the game with the injury.
The Lions have built their offense to rely on a strong line and physical running game, though they spent the offseason adding new weapons to the passing game. If Swift cannot go Sunday, the Lions will use some combination of Jamaal Williams, Craig Reynolds and Justin Jackson, who they promoted from the practice squad this week, in his place.
Staley challenged Swift this spring to be more available through injuries after Swift missed four games with a shoulder ailment last season. He said Friday “the challenge is still out there,” though he said Swift is “doing a great job” managing his sore ankle.
Swift carried an ice bag as he made his way through the locker room Thursday and spent part of Friday’s practice in front of reporters watching from behind the action.
“It kind of goes back to what he asked with all the injuries with running backs and what you’re facing, you know going into the next game if you’ve got something that’s lingering, you know how to take care of it,” Staley said. “And he does, and that’s where he’s gotten better, so I have all confidence in him.”
Campbell said Swift and cornerback Amani Oruwariye, who missed his second straight practice Friday with a back injury, are “probably questionable” to play against the Commanders, while Ragnow and Jackson are “questionably probable.”
The Lions have juggled personnel on their offensive line through two weeks of the season. Logan Stenberg started at left guard in Vaitai’s absence in Week 1. Left tackle Taylor Decker missed a day of practice this week with a calf injury. Evan Brown has taken first-team reps at center this week. And the Lions are considering using Drew Forbes, Kayode Awosika and practice squad lineman Dan Skipper at left guard.
The Lions claimed Forbes off waivers from the Cleveland Browns earlier this month and signed Awosika off the Eagles’ practice squad Wednesday.
“Look, everybody gets the bug at different times and we got a little bit of the injury bug right now, and I think the good news is we got it early so let’s get it knocked out, get it out of the way,” Campbell said. “We’ve got to find a way to win with what we have and that’s what we preached from Day 1, it’s next man up and you’ve got a job to do and you’ve got a great opportunity. Some guys got a great opportunity. I mean, if you play well enough, you may not ever look back. That may be your job forever. So that’s how we have to approach it and nobody cares, we got to win. So we put our best foot forward.”
Campbell said the Lions are looking to see if there is anything to their training methods that have led to their rash of back injuries this summer. Along with Vaitai and Oruwariye, backup guard Tommy Kraemer is dealing with a back injury that landed him on injured reserve this week.
“We’re looking at everything and there’s nothing that I can think of right now that says we did something that we shouldn’t have been doing,” Campbell said. “Now, there again, we’ll turn over every stone. If we feel like it’s something that I need to change or adjust, I’ll certainly do that. But I can’t say that there’s anything right now that we’d have done any differently.”