Detroit — In a game where the Detroit Lions scored 36 points, had a wide receiver setting franchise and NFL records, and a defense shutting out the opponent in the first half, somehow, it’s the fifth-string guard who is the face of the victory.
Dan Skipper has been around these parts for a while, but if you didn’t recognize the name, who could blame you? At 6-foot-9, 330 pounds, he’s the largest man on the roster, making it all the more remarkable he’s managed to blend into the background so well.
But with Detroit’s offensive line decimated by injuries two weeks into the season, the Lions passed over a couple of young guards on the roster, calling up Skipper from the practice squad to make his first career start six years after he went undrafted out of Arkansas.
“My sixth year in the league, I’ve never made a team (out of camp),” Skipper said. “It’s tough, you go in, and you’re never quite good enough. You’re not quite enough. You show up every day, and you think you’re doing the right things, and just for whatever reason, it just doesn’t quite work out.
“I think I’ve had 20 NFL contracts,” Skipper continued, talking about not making the final cut with the Lions earlier this month. “They’re not worth the paper they’re written on, right? So, it’s like, ‘Here we go again.’ Six years, I think things look good, and it sucks, but went home, got things — got to spend a week with the family which was big, got back up here, moved and all that. Just trying to get back to push your best foot ahead every day. It’s not easy. Whether you’ve been fired once or 100 times, it still sucks. It’s tough. You get fired, but just keep on plugging away.
Skipper is one of many players around the league who hover on the fringes of the roster. He’s good enough for continued evaluation and development, but just shy of having enough talent to crack a roster.
But that doesn’t mean he’s unwanted. Far from it. That grit Lions coach Dan Campbell is always talking about, Skipper has it in spades. He’s durable, tough, smart and hardworking. It’s those traits that have helped earn him the trust of his teammates and coaches, giving them the confidence to provide him the opportunity to start Sunday, even if he had played emergency snaps at defensive tackle more recently than he had logged any time at guard.
“Dan’s been here for two years now, since we’ve been here,” Campbell said. “He knows our offense in-and-out, he knows all the positions, and look, this isn’t the easiest offense to just walk right in and learn.
“We just felt like Skip, man, has a real good understanding of it,” Campbell said. “And we felt like even though he’s never played guard in a game, we just feel like he was going to hold up, you know. We trust him, I trust him. He’s a battler. He’s not going to go in the tank if something happens.”
Coincidentally, something bad did happen almost immediately as Skipper found himself out of position to pick up a stunting defensive lineman who sacked quarterback Jared Goff on the game’s opening possession.
But as the contest progressed, you noticed Skipper less and less, which is the way every offensive lineman wants it on game day. In the moments after the game, he grasped to find the words to capture what the afternoon meant to him.
“I mean, there’s really, I don’t know — it’s been such a long road,” Skipper said. “Six teams, um, like I said, I’ve been cut all over. Just having my wife and kids here and everything else, it really comes full circle. It’s hard to explain. It kinda makes everything all worth it. All the chaos, just the trails, having there here, playing, it’s kinda the cherry on top.”
Skipper was one of three backups who the Lions had to start along the offensive line Sunday against Washington, but despite some understandable hiccups, he, Evan Brown and Logan Stenberg held their own as the offense racked up 425 yards, including 191 on the ground, to secure the season’s first win.
“Luckily Evan, Logan and I have played a lot together, going back to last year, this year, this preseason,” Skipper said. “We’re all the next guy up. We’re not the chosen ones so to speak, but, at the end of the day, we go out there and get a win, that’s what matters.
“That’s part of what this game is about, just show up every day, put your hard hat on, go to work and good things happen.”