What are the chances Taylor Decker plays for the Lions in Pittsburgh Sunday after missing the first eight games of the season?
"I would say high," Lions head coach Dan Campbell said Friday.
Pressed to put a percentage on it, Campbell responded: "High percentage."
Detroit's veteran left tackle returned to practice this week after missing the last eight games with an injured left index finger. Decker suffered a setback along the way a few weeks ago, but now looks poised to make his 2021 debut Sunday against the Steelers.
"I think he's done pretty well," Campbell said of Decker's week of practice. "I think he looks pretty good."
Decker is coming off arguably his finest season in 2021, where he was graded a top 12 tackle by Pro Football Focus, and was credited with allowing just two sacks all year.
Decker is expected to slot into his normal left tackle role, and the team will move rookie Penei Sewell, who did a nice job filling in for Decker on the left, back to the right tackle spot he trained at all offseason, training camp and preseason.
Decker's return should help boost Detroit's offense both from a pass blocking and run blocking perspective. The timing couldn't be much better, either. The Lions are looking to push the ball down the field more in the passing game coming out of their bye week, and to do that they have to be very good along the edges.
This week's opponent can get after the passer. The Steelers rank in the top 10 in the NFL with 22.0 sacks on the year.
Lions offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn said this week it might be a little aggressive to think Decker could play every snap Sunday, given he's missed the first two months of the season, but Campbell didn't dismiss that possibility when asked about it Friday.
"Here's the good news, he's been working his rear off while he's been getting this thing back rehabbing, so he's in very good shape," Campbell said of Decker. "Now, we all know football is different. I think we'll just see how it goes, but I think if anyone can do it, it would be him."
BROWN HOLDING IT DOWN
With Decker returning the Lions have four fifths of their starting offensive line back on the field. They're still missing Pro Bowl center Frank Ragnow, who is done for the year with a turf toe injury, but give backup Evan Brown credit for stepping in there and handling things pretty well at center in Ragnow's absence the last four and a half games.
"Listen, Evan has been solid," Campbell said. "He's a sharp guy now. He's smart. (He's) kind of one of those guys you take for granted, you kind of don't think a lot about him, and that's a good thing.
"He's in there, we know he's going to set the table up, mix it up. He's got good leverage and power. I'm glad we got him."
Brown has allowed just one sack and four pressures in five games playing in place of Ragnow. Pro Football Focus has him listed at the 12th highest graded center in football heading into this weekend.
It can't be said enough how good a job Brown has done stepping in for Ragnow, and how good a job the Lions' front office did to recognize his talent and bring him in as a solid veteran backup.
View photos from Detroit Lions practice on Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021.
It's amazing the effects a bye week can have on the body.
Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson got a chance to rest and recharge the batteries at his home base in Nashville over the bye. Hockenson said his body feels pretty good with a week off – he wasn't listed on Detroit's practice report for the first time in weeks – and his GPS tracking device gave him further confirmation of that.
Hockenson said Thursday that his tracker, which is a device all players wear under their shoulder pads that monitors speed and distance traveled and separation on routes, tracked him running a route at 20.9 miles per hour this week. Hockenson said it's the fastest it's ever tracked him.
The Lions are looking for more big plays down the field, and 20.9 miles per hour is cooking pretty good for a guy who tips the scales at 6-foot-5 and 248 pounds. Maybe the Lions look to get Hockenson down the field more this week. Pro Football Focus statistics list Hockenson as being targeted 20-plus yards down the field just three times all year with one catch for 33 yards.