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O'HARA: What Lions endured with injuries last year has made the offensive line stronger

The Detroit Lions have built depth on the offensive line the hard way.

Injuries to starters last season forced them to promote backups to starting jobs.

The result for the Lions as they head into the 2022 regular season is that they have an offensive line with proven players on two levels.

The starting unit, with all five starters healthy – which is currently the case – is considered by many to be one of the NFL's strongest.

Behind them are backups with starting experience -- most recently in 2021 when injuries kept the five starters from playing a single snap together.

View photos from Detroit Lions practice on Tuesday, August 23, 2022.

The depth and efficiency of the Lions' backups was evident in how they dominated the running game in last week's 27-26 road win over the Indianapolis Colts.

With the starters on the bench, the Lions rushed for 174 yards with an average of 5.3 yards per carry. The Lions also did not play their top two running backs, D'Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams. Justin Jackson led the rushing attack with 54 yards. Craig Reynolds was next with 37.

Taylor Decker, going into his seventh season as the Lions' starting left tackle, said there was a message in how the backups performed.

"I think it says we have set a standard, and everybody in the room wants to adhere to that standard and live up to that standard," Decker said. "Everybody who was in the game, it was really, really good.

"There was a lot of physical play. A lot of low pad level. It just opened up the whole offense for us.

"Hopefully, we can continue to do that."

Decker was the first of the five starrers to be bitten by the injury bug last season. A hand injury sustained in practice before the first regular-season game forced him to miss eight games. Pro Bowl center Frank Ragnow missed the last 13 games with a toe injury sustained in Week 4.

Pro Bowl left guard Jonah Jackson and right tackle Penei Sewell each missed one game. Right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai missed two.

Three starters against the Colts were backups who started multiple games in 2021. Center Evan Brown started 12 games, tackle Matt Nelson 11 and guard Tommy Kraemer three.

Also starting against the Colts were guard Logan Stenberg, who has not started a game in two seasons with the Lions, and tackle Dan Skipper, who hasn't started in four seasons as a Lion.

What the Lions endured with injuries last year has made the offensive line a better unit, head coach Dan Campbell said.

"Those guys, they're better players this year than they were last year," Campbell said. "They have a lot more experience under their belt – a lot more for sure. You've got to have depth in this league to survive. "

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