Rookie linebacker Jahlani Tavai was answering questions from a large group of media members in front of his locker Friday night at Ford Field, while across the room veteran offensive lineman Kenny Wiggins was talking in subdued tones to a smaller group.
The tenor and mood of the conversations was gloomy, bordering on grim, over the potential severity of the injuries.
What we learned is that when it comes to injuries we are programmed to think the worst – largely because of the brutal nature of pro football – but sometimes there is good news on injured players.
That was the case with Ragnow and Davis.
“Those injuries are not season ending,” head coach Matt Patricia said in his media conference-call interview Saturday.
Among the other things we learned in Week 3: The Lions are developing a strong group of tight ends; a rare dropped pass by rookie tight end T.J. Hockenson; linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin is showing how much he was missed last year; and the last word – on what to look for in Game 4 Thursday night in Cleveland.
View photos from the Detroit Lions vs. Buffalo Bills Preseason Week 3 game at Ford Field on Friday, Aug. 23, 2019 in Detroit.
We start with injuries: The Lions were hit hard in Game 1 of the preseason against the Patriots. Jermaine Kearse went out for the season with a leg injury, and backup quarterback Tom Savage went out with a concussion. Savage has not practiced or played since while in the concussion protocol.
Kearse’s experience playing the slot or outside made him a leading candidate to be the fourth receiver. Savage was the top candidate to be Matthew Stafford’s backup.
Based on Patricia’s update Saturday on Ragnow and Davis – with no timetable on either player’s return – the Lions avoided the worst-case scenario for two key starters.
That doesn’t mean there still isn’t a next-man-up reality regarding injuries.
Tavai has been a good fit for the defense since the start of the offseason workouts. He sounded like a veteran when he spoke about the situation and the potential of taking on a bigger role for a period of time.
“No position is secure,” he said. “You’ve got to prove to each guy on the field that you’re going to be able to be trusted. Injuries happen, and you’ve just got to have that next man up mentality and make sure that the whole defense just stays whole, no matter what.”
Wiggins, a 31-year-old journeyman in his seventh season, and second with the Lions, can speak from his experience about the “next man up” philosophy.
“All of us know what we’re doing.” Wiggins said. “That’s what our room is about. It’s old hat for me. I’ve been doing it my whole career.
“Take the good with the bad and roll with it.”
Tight ends: Friday night’s game was further evidence of how this year’s unit is made up of playmakers opposed to the limited role players of last season.
The four tight ends who’ve made up the top of the depth chart since the start of the offseason workouts combined to catch six passes for 94 yards Friday night.
Rookie first-round draft pick T.J. Hockenson had three catches for 52 yards, with a long reception of 32 yards. Rookie Isaac Nauta, a seventh-round pick, had one catch for 23 yards. Two veteran free agents had one catch each – a 13-yard catch by Jesse James, a six-yarder by Logan Thomas.
There’s an interesting decision coming for GM Bob Quinn and his staff on whether to keep three or four tight ends.
One thing we’ve learned: Better to have too many good choices than not enough.
Hock drop: Hockenson is human. We know that now. And it’s notable that a dropped pass is worth mentioning – mostly because he’s been so sure-handed in training camp, and the first two preseason games.
He had a walk-in touchdown in the second quarter but could not hang on to a pass that quarterback Matthew Stafford threw while rolling out to his right to escape the rush.
“It’s something I want back,” Hockenson said. “Got to learn from it. We need to work on that.”
Stafford joked with him on the sideline.
“We had fun with it,” Hockenson said. “He was messing with me.”
Making up: Jalen Reeves-Maybin might be slightly undersized at 6 feet, 233 pounds compared to the Lions’ other linebackers, but we’re finding out that he is not undervalued. He was limited by injuries to 110 defensive snaps in nine games last year, and his instincts and ability to get to the ball were missed.
Friday night he had a tackle for loss, quarterback hit and an interception that was nullified by teammate Christian Jones’ penalty. In Game 2 at Houston he had a pass breakup and a tackle for loss.
Reeves-Maybin would not fill Jarrad Davis’ role. He’s a different player, who operates well in space. But he’s showing that he plays a valuable role on his own.
Last word: On to Arizona. That’s what I expect from the Lions from now on, with preseason Game 4 in Cleveland getting barely a glance. From now on, the Lions should focus their energy on the regular-season opener against the Cardinals.
Staying healthy until then is the primary consideration.