The Detroit Lions placed center Frank Ragnow on injured reserve Wednesday as a result of the turf toe injury he suffered Sunday in Chicago. That means the Lions are without their Pro Bowl center for at least the next three games (could be longer), including Sunday's matchup in Minnesota against the Vikings.
Detroit's also not expected to have left tackle Taylor Decker back. He's missed the first month of the season with a finger/hand injury.
Rookie Penei Sewell has moved over from right tackle to left tackle to replace Decker, but now he's dealing with an injury as well. He injured his ankle Sunday in Chicago, and head coach Dan Campbell said Wednesday Sewell would be limited at best at practice Wednesday.
What was once expected to be a big strength heading into the season, the offensive line is now down 40 percent of its star power with arguably the two best players in Ragnow and Decker out. They could be down 60 percent of the starting line depending on how Sewell's ankle responds to treatment this week.
Evan Brown filled in for Ragnow after he left Sunday, and it's expected the third-year veteran will get the start this week. The Lions also signed center Ryan McCollum off the Houston Texans practice squad this week.
If Sewell can't play, Will Holden could step in and take his place. Detroit could also opt to move guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai back to tackle. He's got plenty of experience at tackle from his time with the Eagles.
"Whoever's next in line, just making sure those guys are ready to go, and it's a great opportunity," Lions offensive line coach Hank Fraley said. "It's a great opportunity for the next guy in. It's a challenge, but it's a fun challenge, we embrace it, that's why we play this game."
It all comes at a time when Detroit is getting ready to play a Vikings defensive front that's been getting after opposing quarterbacks this year.
Minnesota's 13 sacks are the fourth most in the NFL, and their 23 quarterback hurries are sixth most.
Talented Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter had a sack last week against Cleveland, giving him five in four games. He trails only Myles Garrett for the NFL lead. In nine career games against Detroit, Hunter has 11 sacks, and he's aiming for a fourth game in a row at home against the Lions with two-plus sacks.
"He's one of those pieces that makes them pretty dangerous," Lions head coach Dan Campbell said of Hunter. "Because he's one of those D-ends that I think plays the run as good as anybody and he's an excellent pass rusher too."
CHANGING UP PRACTICE
Campbell said after the game Sunday in Chicago that being better on short-yardage situations, third down and in the red zone would be a major point of emphasis in practice this week. The Lions are just 15-of-45 on third down through four games, and walked out of Soldier Field Sunday just 1-for-5 in the red zone and 1-for-3 on fourth down, failing to convert 4th and 1 and 4th and 5 with incomplete passes.
True to his word, Campbell is changing up practice a bit this week, starting Wednesday.
"We've done a little bit of third-down work against each other on Thursdays up to this point, but we're going to start doing it every day," Campbell said.
"Whether it's one or two plays at the end of each segment offense vs. defense, good vs. good, we're going to do it. We'll start there. I've tweaked a few other things. We'll be in pads today for a period of time and then we're going to go into teach mode at the back end of practice and really hone in on the package and the scheme and what we're trying to do to stop these guys."
Campbell eluded to some potential shakeups on defense, including in the secondary. One that immediately comes to mind is undrafted rookie Jerry Jacobs potentially getting a chance to play more opposite Amani Oruwariye at outside corner. Jacobs replaced Bobby Price in the second half last week.
Detroit ranks 16th in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game (248.5), but the opposing quarterback passer rating against of 116.4 is the third worst in the league.
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has a top 10 passer rating and possibly the best receiver tandem in the league to throw to in Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson.
To start the year, Thielen is one of two NFC receivers (Cooper Kupp) with 20-plus catches (24) and four-plus touchdowns. Jefferson is coming off a six-catch, 84-yard game with a touchdown vs. Cleveland. He's just the third player in NFL history with 100-plus catches (114), 1,500-plus yards (1,738) and 10-plus touchdowns (10) in his first 20 NFL games. The other two are A.J. Green and Odell Beckham Jr.
Brown was asked Wednesday about his first career start, and he said he's prepared and ready for the challenge. He said he's learned a lot from Ragnow, and he's got 15 games of NFL experience to draw on, just no starts.
"It's a great experience to get the start, but I'm just trying to get out there and keep our unit together as a group and keep us moving forward," Brown said.