Running back D’Andre Swift did not take part in practice Wednesday, and Lions head coach Dan Campbell said earlier in the week it would be hard to imagine him playing Sunday vs. the Vikings after Swift sprained his shoulder on Thanksgiving against the Bears.
With Swift unlikely to play, the Lions will turn to Jamaal Williams to carry a lot of the load.
"It's no different than any other injury when you lose a guy who has been very productive for you, somebody's got to pick up the slack, and the good news is we have Jamaal back," Campbell said Wednesday. "This will be his third week to get back and get into the flow a little bit. Certainly, we're going to lean on Jamaal a little bit."
That's not to say Godwin Igwebuike and Jermar Jefferson won't be in the mix as well, but Williams is expected to carry most of the load Sunday against a Vikings' defense that ranks 30th in total defense (382.9 yards per game) and 30th against the run (134.4).
He played this role well the last few years in Green Bay when he's had to fill in for Aaron Jones. In seven games last year where Williams had at least 15 carries or more, he averaged better than 70 yards on the ground and scored three touchdowns.
Williams enters Sunday with the second highest percentage of his rushes resulting in a first down (30.1), which only trails Indianapolis running back Jonathan Taylor (35.4). He's also been stuffed on just 6.6 percent of his runs, which is the third lowest percentage in the league.
The Lions will certainly miss Swift if he's not able to play, especially with what he provides as a dual-threat player in the passing game, but Williams is more than capable of handling the load if called upon to do so.
The Vikings aren't expected to have the services of their star running back Dalvin Cook on Sunday after he injured his shoulder in last week's loss to the 49ers.
It will be the second time this season the Lions will play the Vikings without Cook in the backfield. He also missed the Week 5 matchup between these clubs due to injury.
Alexander Mattison, who is one of the better backups in the league, helped propel the Vikings to a come-from-behind victory over Detroit in that matchup with 153 total scrimmage yards (113 rushing & 40 receiving) and a touchdown.
"He's done a nice job when he's been in there," Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said this week of Mattison. "We anticipate him, if he's playing, going in there and playing well."
This is right around the time college players are finishing up their regular season, and most of them, outside of those few who play in conference championship games, are taking it easy and preparing for bowl games in the next month or so.
So, it's a bit of a rude awakening for rookie players like defensive end Levi Onwuzurike and nose tackle Alim McNeill that there's still a third of the NFL season remaining.
"First of all, they are going to be pushed," defensive line coach Todd Wash said Wednesday of Onwuzurike and McNeill specifically. "We walked out the meeting today and Levi was limping a little bit and I told him, 'We don't have time for that crap.'
"Normally their seasons are getting ready for bowl games right now, but we still have quite a few games left. Our vets have talked to them, we've talked to them. They just have to continue to maintain, get stronger in the weight room, but more importantly take care of their bodies this time of year."
There was so much promise surrounding defensive lineman Da'Shawn Hand after his rookie season in 2018. The Lions took Hand in the fourth round, and he looked like one of the steals of the draft after playing really well and earning a spot on the Pro Football Writers All-Rookie team. He recorded three sacks, two forced fumbles and four tackles for loss to go with 27 tackles in 13 games.
But then came the injuries.
Hand missed a combined 27 games due to injury the last three seasons while playing in just 16. The Lions waived Hand from injured reserve Tuesday with an injury settlement, ending his tenure in Detroit.