It was a little more than a year ago when linebacker Steve Longa tore his ACL on a non-contact play the second week of the preseason vs. the New York Giants.
At the time of his injury, Longa was a core player on the Lions' kick-return, kick-cover, punt-return and punt-cover teams. The last time he was on the field in that preseason game, he started on all four units.
It's been a long year for Longa, but his recovery took the next step this week when he returned to the practice field.
"It felt good being out there and moving around with the team," he said Monday after practice. "I've been doing all this by myself on the sideline, but you can't replicate football movements until you are playing the game. It felt good being out there with all the guys."
Longa is entering his fourth season after leading the Lions in special teams tackles in 2017 (11) and playing a backup role inside on defense. With the addition of Jahlani Tavai via this year's draft, and the emergence of Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Miles Killebrew at linebacker, it's tough to say where Longa fits into the mix with less than a week to go before cut-down day.
Lions head coach Matt Patricia talks often about the importance of special teams. The Lions need to have players who can play in space and be good on special teams. Longa has certainly proven in the past he can be one of those players.
"We're excited to get him out there," Patricia said of Longa's return to practice. "He's done a lot of work behind the scenes. He's really put in the grind from the offseason trying to really understand the defense through training camp, paying attention to the installs, and making sure the film corrections and all that stuff."
Longa didn't know if he'd have the opportunity to play in Thursday's preseason finale in Cleveland, but even if he doesn't play, Longa does have a history of production in this league on his side, especially on special teams.
"Experience is huge," Longa said. "Especially for a guy that hasn't played a lot of football (in a year). So, I have to rely back on what I already knew and help me transition into this a lot faster."
The next couple days are big as the Lions prepare to get a long look at the depth of the roster in game action Thursday night. The front office and the coaching staff will start to meet Friday about finalizing the initial 53-man roster. Patricia said earlier in the week that he wasn't certain where Longa stood as it pertains to the 53-man roster, and that this would be a big week in that regard.
"I think it's good too that we have a history with a guy like that, which we can go back to and certainly someone that's been in our building nonstop since he couldn't play last year," Patricia said.
"He's just been working really hard, so that obviously helps us from that standpoint. I think the best thing for him is to just get out on the field right now and starting to get back to football."