The Detroit Lions are one step closer to getting a big piece back on defense.
Defensive lineman Alim McNeill was back on the practice field Wednesday as the team started his 21-day practice window. He took part in Wednesday's practice for the first time since injuring his knee Dec. 3 in a win over New Orleans and missing the last four games while on Reserve/Injured.
"It felt really good to be back out there," McNeill said after practice. "My energy is back. My mood is back. It's really good."
McNeill, who has never missed a game in his football career due to injury, said the time off did give his body a chance to rest and he feels fresh heading into Week 18 and the playoffs. He was wearing a custom knee brace at practice and said that takes a little getting used to, but it will be fine.
Detroit's defense has allowed the fifth fewest rushing yards, the third lowest average per rush and the third fewest 10-plus yard runs this season and McNeill's presence in the middle is a big reason why. He's also had a career year as an interior pass rusher.
McNeill is graded as the fifth best interior defensive lineman in the game by Pro Football Focus. His five sacks on the year are a career high and second behind only Aidan Hutchinson (9.5) for the team lead. He also has 31 tackles (16 solo), six tackles for loss, nine quarterback hits, one pass defended and one forced fumble.
"Yeah, it'll be good. It's going to be good to get him back," Lions head coach Dan Campbell said Wednesday. "And I know he's looking forward to it just like we are, so he's excited and he'll get some work again here for us. You always, this time of year, for him, it's going to kind of feel like Game 1 again. He'll be fresh, have fresh legs and a fresh energy about him, so it's good."
McNeill lost weight and body fat this year to become a quicker and more explosive interior defender and that's exactly what he's been this season. The Lions have missed his presence the last month.
Getting him back in the center of the defense is huge as they prepare for their first playoff game at Ford Field next week in the Wild Card round, but first it's important for him to get some reps this week against the Vikings to knock off some of the rust.
"Just so I don't go into (the playoffs) cold," he said. "I would much rather do it this way as well. I don't want to just hop right into a playoff game. They've been playing weeks and weeks and weeks, are warm, and I don't want to just jump into something like that. I will be playing in this game (Sunday) getting some snaps."
TWO 1,000-YARD BACKS
Veteran running back David Montgomery is 25 yards shy of topping 1,000 yards in a season for the first time since 2020 when he was in Chicago and rushed for 1,070. Rookie running back Jahmyr Gibbs needs 85 rushing yards to also reach 1,000.
"That's big," Montgomery said Wednesday of both players potentially reaching 1,000 rushing yards on the season. "That's bigger than me doing it. If we can both do it that would be super big understanding that hasn't been done too often."
Montgomery and Gibbs would be just the sixth running back tandem in league history to accomplish the feat and the first since Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams in Carolina (2009).
"It would mean a lot for me and D-Mo and the rest of the offense," Gibbs said. "Shows dedication to the work we put in throughout this whole season. It would be special for the program."
The last time the Lions faced the Vikings Week 16, All-Pro wide receiver Justin Jefferson had six receptions for 141 yards and a touchdown in Detroit's 30-24 win.
Dallas wide receiver CeeDee Lamb put up 227 receiving yards and a touchdown on the Lions in Week 17.
So how do the Lions go about trying to slow down Jefferson this time around?
"Yeah, I think some of it – combination with when we do double, how we're going to double," Campbell said. "But also, when it comes time to – we've got to challenge a little bit better at the line of scrimmage on some things. We've got to try to make some contact on a few things a little bit better. I think we can be better at on our own.
"Now look (Jefferson's) a heck of a player and he's going to make some plays. That's the nature of when you play somebody of his caliber, but I know we can be better."