Nearly two weeks after hyperextending his left knee, Lions rookie tight end Sam LaPorta said he's at the point now where he can trust his knee again.
"The trusting of my knee has progressed quite a bit," he said Friday in front of his locker after practice. "Just reaching and planting for cuts. Certainly, the achiness has progressed. Just trying to make it feel better all week. Get the right amount of work but not too much at the same time."
Getting that right balance is probably why LaPorta was a limited participant in practice both Thursday and Friday. It's good news the trust is back because he's expected to be an important piece to Detroit's offensive attack against a good and aggressive Tampa Bay defense Sunday afternoon at Ford Field in the Divisional Rounds of the playoffs. LaPorta is officially listed as questionable for that contest.
LaPorta first injured the knee when he hyperextended it Week 18 in the win vs. Minnesota. He rehabbed hard last week and ended up playing 45 snaps, or 80 percent of the offensive snaps, last week in the Wild Card win over the Rams.
"That almost might be 45 more snaps than I thought this time last week we would get," Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said this week. "So, I tell you, man, the kid just continues to impress. It's one way or another. It's what he does on the field.
"And listen, I know he only had the three catches for limited amount of yards, but the touchdown speaks for itself. The third-and-21 that he did everything he needed to do just to get us a little bit closer to kick the field goal. And then what he does in the run-game goes unappreciated by most. So, the guy – I mean it's incredible for a rookie. It really is."
LaPorta said he came out of last week's game feeling pretty good. He felt the aches about 48 hours afterward but says overall it's feeling pretty good. He's getting used to the brace he's been wearing since the injury and also credited the training and medical staff for their long hours getting the knee to point where he can play and contribute.
LaPorta has 86 receptions for 889 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season as Detroit's second leading pass catcher behind wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown.
HOLDING UP THE STANDARD
In the first matchup with Tampa Week 6 the Lions were without rookie running back Jahmyr Gibbs, who missed the game due to a hamstring injury. They also lost veteran running back David Montgomery in the second quarter after just six carries.
The end result was the Lions' worst rushing performance of the season – 40 rushing yards on 22 carries for a 1.8-yard average per rush.
Quarterback Jared Goff and the passing game handled the load for the offense and led the Lions to a 20-6 win, but this time around the Lions will have both Gibbs and Montgomery and are hoping that makes a big difference with their run game.
"Obviously, they are a really good defense and I wanted to play against them the first time," Gibbs said this week. "Unfortunately, I couldn't because I got hurt. Looking forward to it.
"I think it'll be very important (to establish the run). The o-line has a chip on their shoulder from that last game. We have a standard to hold and want to live up to it."
KNOWING WHERE NO. 13 IS
Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans reached 1,000 receiving yards this season for the 10th consecutive season. In half of those seasons, including this year, he has 10-plus touchdowns. When the Bucs need a big play, No. 13 is usually quarterback Baker Mayfield's No. 1 target. Lions head coach Dan Campbell has stressed that to his defense all week.
"13. 13. 13. 13. 13," Campbell said of the keys for his defense Sunday. "We've got to find a way to squeeze this in on Baker. If you let him sit back there and play with rhythm and a hitch, it's dangerous because he will get it up to his guys and he's going to give them a chance to make a play.
"But Evans is – man, he's an issue. And our guys know that. We can't let him go off. You're watching the New Orleans game from a couple weeks ago. New Orleans is kind of up, and then all of a sudden, under two minutes, man, three shot plays. Bam, bam, bam. And just like that, they're back within a one-score game possibly under two minutes with a chance to onside kick and get the ball back.
"I mean, so they're never out of this even if you're able to do some things early because of those receivers and his ability to give them a chance to make a play on the ball."
Campbell hadn't decided as of Friday afternoon whether James Houston will be active Sunday vs. the Bucs. Houston was activated to the 53-man roster on Thursday after his 21-day practice window to come of IR was completed, but will he be active Sunday vs. the Bucs?
"Yeah, I mean, we've still got to gauge if we feel like he will be ready," Campbell said Friday. "And I know this, he's better, he's a lot better this week than he was last week and that's the progression of it, right? Is every week, he should start to get his legs back under him, feel good about it and we've got to decide if we really believe that if he goes, is it – are we going to get the production? Relative to who we're sitting for the rest of the team.
"So, that's kind of where we're at. But I know this, he looks a ton better. I know he wants to go, I mean, who wouldn't? So – but he's done a nice job coming back."