Taylor Decker missed thousands of practice reps and countless hours of weight room training while rehabbing a shoulder injury he suffered in early June that lasted until midseason.
Those are valuable reps that help a player hone his skills and prepare himself for the rigors of an NFL season. Decker missed all of that.
"Those reps are valuable to have, but I just have to make the best of the situation I have," Decker said this week.
Decker compared his situation to that of a golfer. Someone may know how to play golf, but if they don't practice or play, they'll never get any better.
"In theory, you look at offensive linemen and you're like, 'Oh, that's not hard,' but it is," he said. "In theory, it's easy, but in practice and execution it's very difficult, and it's difficult to do it consistently."
That consistency comes with repetition, but Decker says he's beginning to get back into the flow after two straight starts back from PUP.
"I feel like I'm – given the circumstances – I feel as good as I can," he said. "But again, those training camp reps, the end of OTAs, the preseason and the first eight, nine games, I'm not going to get those reps back. So, you just have to make the best of the situation."
Vikings standout defensive end Everson Griffen got two sacks vs. Decker in last week's Minnesota win on Thanksgiving. It's only the second time in Decker's career (Week 2 vs. GB last year) he's been credited with allowing more than one sack in a game.
Things don't get any easier for Decker this week with veteran Terrell Suggs, who has 9.5 sacks and four forced fumbles.
Decker admits he's still working through the kinks, but is making progress. Lions head coach Jim Caldwell sees the progress as well.
"Getting closer," Caldwell said this week. "It's just not one of those things where you come out. This is a hard league. It's tough, but he's getting closer."
Every year, Dallas Morning News columnist Rick Gosselin ranks special teams units using 22 kicking-game categories.
Last year, the Lions finished second in those rankings behind only Kansas City. Baltimore, Detroit's opponent on Sunday, finished fifth.
Detroit and Baltimore take special teams seriously, and those units could play a big hand in deciding which team is off and running in their pursuit of the playoffs.
"Our special teams are very important and they play a big role, as you guys have seen," Caldwell said Thursday. "They change field position for you, in terms of defending and also in terms of attacking from the offensive standpoint, if you get a good return and things of that nature.
"So, it's always extremely important for us. I just think that this is a group (Baltimore and Detroit) that's got a lot of similarities. Placekickers are excellent, punters are excellent, long snappers are excellent, and then two real, veteran coaches that coach the position with Joe (Marciano) and Jerry (Rosburg).
"That whole staff, John (Harbaugh) was a special teams coach, so they're well versed in that area. They spent a lot of time on that area. They can gain some real advantages if you don't watch out and you aren't prepared. So, they really challenge you in that area, so we have to be really on our toes."
Since Detroit's bye week five weeks ago, Theo Riddick has been the best running back Detroit has.
He's rushed for 122 yards on just 27 carries over that stretch for a 4.5 average per rush.
Over that same span, Ameer Abdullah's gained 163 yards on 60 carries for a 2.7 average.
Abdullah missed practice both Wednesday and Thursday because of a neck injury, which puts his status for Sunday's game in question. But even if Abdullah wasn't dealing with an injury, it stands to reason Riddick might start dipping into some of his carries.
"I think Theo's doing a nice job," Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said Thursday. "We've seen improvement from him, he's really working hard at it. And it is our job to evaluate all those guys and sort of figure out who should get what amount of plays in the game, and carries, and all that stuff, sort of how each guys game looks like.
"And I would say that we've got guys that are doing a good job and we're going to sort of try to let them do that good job maybe a couple more times."