The Detroit Lions could be down two starters along their offensive line as they head into a crucial early-season matchup with the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field Sunday.
Right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai missed Detroit's Week 1 loss vs. Chicago with a foot injury and hasn't practiced all week. He's listed as questionable to play Sunday vs. the Packers.
Left guard Joe Dahl popped up on the practice report Thursday with a groin injury that limited him in Thursday's practice and kept him out of practice Friday. He's already been ruled out for Sunday.
That's certainly not an ideal scenario for a Lions team trying to avoid a second straight division loss to start the season, and facing the likes of Packers talented pass rushers Za'Darius Smith, Preston Smith and Rashan Gary. The Lions do catch a bit of a break in that Packers Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kenny Clark isn't expected to play because of a groin injury suffered last week vs. the Vikings.
If Vaitai can't go, I expect third-year tackle Tyrell Crosby to fill in at right tackle as he did last week. Crosby didn't allow a sack last week vs. Chicago. He gave up three quarterback pressures and was flagged twice.
The Lions have a number of options to fill in for Dahl, including veterans Kenny Wiggins and Oday Aboushi, who have 126 career games and 72 starts between them.
"It's good to have those guys like Oday (Aboushi) and Kenny Wiggins," Lions offensive line coach Hank Fraley said Friday. "They're always prepared, and I think what you try to stress to those guys is, prepare as though you're starting because you never know when you're in."
Fraley said he always tries to mix the backups into practice throughout the week to make sure the starters and reserves are all getting reps together.
With Dahl not being available, rookie Logan Stenberg could see his first active status on game day. He was inactive Week 1.
"I've really started to see his improvement in that area, just being a little bit calmer with the calls and the techniques, still learning the system obviously and a lot of nuances with the offensive line to really kind of capture on his part," Lions head coach Matt Patricia said of the rookie Stenberg this week.
"I think it's been a steady, steady improvement. We still have a long way to go though from that standpoint, but it's been good to be able to just have him in one spot."
Detroit will have three healthy starters upfront Sunday in left tackle Taylor Decker, center Frank Ragnow and rookie right guard Jonah Jackson, who will be starting just his second career game.
STAFFORD TO HOCKENSON CONNECTION
Second-year tight end T.J. Hockenson had a nice debut last Sunday against the Bears with five receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown. Hockenson caught all five of his targets from quarterback Matthew Stafford and was a nice matchup weapon for Detroit, despite the loss.
Hockenson bulked up this offseason and is expected to play a big role with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell making it a point to get him more involved in the offense in his second season. It was nice to see some early chemistry between Hockenson and Stafford.
"They've done a good job since we've gotten back at camp, really just working together," Lions head coach Matt Patricia said this week. "There's a lot of periods during practice where, maybe specials teams where they're not involved, and the two of them will take some of that extra time to go work on the nuances of routes or reads, coverage looks and some game plan stuff that we do in those situations.
"I think all just those extras that add up through the course of practice and being on the same page help during the game. Certainly in some of the game plan plays that we had, I thought were well-designed to try to get T.J. the ball, and some of those situations were really good."
Green Bay's defense allowed just three receptions for 39 yards to Minnesota tight ends in their Week 1 victory.
We've talked a lot this week about Detroit trying to contain the Aaron Rodgers to Davante Adams connection that exploded last week in Minnesota to the tune of 14 catches for 156 yards and two scores. But the third part of that three-headed skill-position monster in Green Bay is running back Aaron Jones.
The league's leading touchdown scorer last year (19) was held somewhat in check by Minnesota last week. He rushed 16 times for 66 yards (4.1 average) with one touchdown. He also caught four passes for 10 yards.
Detroit did a pretty good job on Jones last year. He recorded just 47 yards in their first matchup Week 6, and though he notched 100 rushing yards in Week 17, it took 25 carries to get there. He didn't record a touchdown in either contest. Detroit's defense will be looking for more of the same on Sunday.
"I mean he's one of the best players on the field, hands down, from his team," Patricia said. "I would say someone that's kind of in the bread and butter of what they are right now offensively.
"As great as Aaron Rodgers is and Adams is, Jones is just absolutely dominating the game with the run game. I think the outside zone stretch game that they've been able to be so successful with just fits the personality of the run style that he's great at. From our standpoint, that is a huge challenge for us, especially early in the year, to get our run defense ready to go against such a great player."
The Lions allowed 149 rushing yards and a 5.3 average per run against the Bears in Week 1. They'll have to be much better against Jones and Co. this week.