Hal Vaitai in ‘a really good place’ after back surgery; Detroit Lions RG spot wide open

Detroit Free Press

PHOENIX — The Detroit Lions are optimistic Halapoulivaati Vaitai will have a prominent role on their offensive line this fall after missing all of last season with back surgery, but are preparing for his absence just in case.

Lions coach Dan Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes gave favorable updates on Vaitai’s recovery at the NFL’s annual spring meeting this week, with both indicating Vaitai will compete with Graham Glasgow for the starting right guard job in 2023.

“That’s exactly what (this is, a competition),” Campbell said. “This is my new term, that you’re raising the floor. A guy like Graham raises the floor again. He’s been a starter in this league. He’s been a pretty good center. He’s got guard flex, obviously. And so he’s a guy that we know can go in there and compete to start. And let’s see where Big V’s at coming off of this back.”

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Vaitai, who signed a five-year, $45 million deal with the Lions in 2020 as a replacement for Glasgow, started 15 games at right guard in 2021 but has dealt with injuries throughout his Lions career.

He missed six games with a broken foot his first season in Detroit and was lost for the year to a back injury last preseason.

Campbell said “we have some optimism in the building” about Vaitai’s health, but acknowledged, “we won’t know” how Vaitai’s back will hold up until he returns to live action.

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Vaitai agreed to a pay cut of more than $6 million to stay in Detroit last week.

“He’s in a good place,” Holmes said. “We actually got some recent reports back that he’s in a really good place. And we felt confident about doing the deal and glad to have him back.”

The Lions return four starters on their offensive line and added Glasgow to replace Evan Brown, their do-it-all interior lineman who made 24 starts the past two seasons between center and guard.

A third-round pick by the Lions in 2016, Glasgow offers similar position versatility. He played all three interior line positions during his first tour with the Lions and saw extensive action at center and right guard the past three seasons with the Denver Broncos.

Glasgow said last week his expectation is “to come in and compete for a (starting) job.”

“Really, that’s what Graham gives you, man,” Campbell said. “He gives you ability, he can step in and he can hold the fort down. And, man, if you need him at either of the positions, left guard, right guard or center, you got a guy. So it’s good to get him.”

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The Lions likely are not done addressing their interior line.

Already, they’ve hosted two late-round guard prospects, North Carolina State’s Chandler Zavala and UCLA’s Antonio Mafi, on pre-draft visits, and they reportedly will bring TCU guard Steve Avila, a potential Day 2 pick, in for a top-30 visit as well.

Currently, the Lions do not have any guards under contract beyond 2023, though left guard Jonah Jackson is a candidate for a contract extension this summer.

“Vaitai, man, he’s a good player. He’s a starting-level guard who fits what we’re about along the offensive line,” Holmes said. “But obviously there are question marks, or were question marks about his health and all of that. To get Glasgow in the fold — and Glasgow is a guy that’s got positional versatility as well. Obviously, we all know about his ability at guard, but the stuff that he did at center on tape last year was really exciting.

“It’s good to have that competition and it should be good.”

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

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