Coming into the season, the Detroit Lions expected their starting offensive line to be Taylor Decker (left tackle), Joe Dahl (left guard), Frank Ragnow (center), Jonah Jackson (right guard) and Halapoulivaati Vaitai (right tackle). Those five players have played zero snaps together this year because of injury.
Detroit's had to move some pieces around and fill in the blanks upfront through four games, and they could be in a similar situation Sunday in Jacksonville with Ragnow questionable to play with a groin injury suffered this week on Wednesday that forced him to miss practice Thursday and to be a limited participant in practice Friday.
Dahl returned to practice this week after missing Detroit's previous three games with a groin injury. He's still on IR, but there's a chance he'll be activated to the 53-man roster before Sunday.
Vaitai missed a couple games early in the year with a foot injury, and has since been moved to guard to allow Tyrell Crosby to play tackle so the team could get the five best players upfront on the field together while Dahl's been out.
View photos from Detroit Lions practice on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020.
Ragnow, along with Decker, has been one of Detroit's most consistent performers upfront through the first quarter of the season. He's currently graded as the sixth best center in football by Pro Football Focus, allowing just four pressures and no sacks in four games. He's been strong in the run game as well.
If the Lions don't have the services of Ragnow Sunday, they have a few options. Dahl could be moved to the active roster and play center, leaving Jackson and Vaitai to continue playing guard.
Jackson also has some experience playing center, and the Lions cross train all their interior linemen to play all three spots.
Detroit could also elect to sign Beau Benzschawel from the practice squad to the active roster. He got the majority of the second-team reps at center in training camp, and the Lions spent a lot of time last year transitioning him into that role.
The Lions certainly hope all those are just scenarios, and Ragnow will be able to play Sunday as Detroit aims to get back in the win column coming off their bye week.
FANS IN THE STANDS
The Lions played in front of a few friends and family in Arizona Week 3, roughly 500 people or so.
Detroit can expect to play in front of around 16,000 fans in Jacksonville this week, as the Jaguars have opened their stadium to a reduced number of fans.
Even though they'll be a hostile crowd in Jacksonville, Lions players and coaches are looking forward to playing in front of a crowd.
"I think everyone is kind of excited to have fans out there," Lions head coach Matt Patricia said. "I think it'll be great. You definitely could feel a little bit of a different atmosphere when they changed the noise decibel in the stadiums. Crazy to say that, but it'll be cool just to have fans out at the game. That'll be fun."
The league allowed teams to increase the stadium noise in past weeks to try and give home teams without fans a little bit of an advantage. Teams have played music in between plays and tried to make it as real as it would be with fans, but it certainly hasn't had the same feel.
"It's definitely going to be nice," defensive end Romeo Okwara said of playing in front of fans Sunday. "I think I heard 16,000 fans or something like that. It's definitely going to be interesting. I'm looking forward to it out in the sunshine. I sometimes love booing more than cheering."
BRYANT TO IR
It's been a rough start for undrafted rookie tight end Hunter Bryant. After making a bunch of plays early in camp and really standing out, Bryant suffered a hamstring injury and missed the rest of camp. He showed enough to earn a roster spot out of camp, but the hamstring injury has lingered now six weeks into the season. A concussion was added to the injury report for Bryant this week, and the Lions have now placed the rookie on injured reserve. He has to stay on IR for at least three games.
Bryant caught 52 passes for 825 yards with three touchdowns last season for the University of Washington. He showed that big-play potential early in camp, but simply hasn't been able to shake the injuries.
Bryant heading to IR leaves the Lions with two healthy tight ends on the active roster – T.J. Hockenson and Jesse James. Tight end Isaac Nauta is on the practice squad.
Teams that begin the year with a 2-3 record have made the playoffs 21.8 percent of the time, according to NFL Media Research. When a team begins 1-4, that percentage drops to 6.8 percent.
There's a lot of football to be played before we start talking about the playoffs, but the percentages are what they are. Sunday's a big game for Detroit to get back into the win column and back into the conversation in the NFC six weeks into the season.