It was the final practice of minicamp, late during a team period, when those of us watching finally got to see it: Left tackle Taylor Decker, left guard Jonah Jackson, center Frank Ragnow, right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai and right tackle Penei Sewell lined up together on the field as a starting five unit for Detroit's offensive line.
"It's always good to see those guys out there," offensive line coach Hank Fraley said after practice of getting all five of his starters on the field together in minicamp. "It's good. It's been awhile since those five guys have even taken a rep together. Those guys love working together and to see all five of those guys run out together, they can be a special group, but we're a long ways from that."
Decker was dealing with a minor foot injury the team was cautious about to start the offseason program, which kept him off the field until near the end of minicamp, and we finally got to see what's expected to be the strength of this Detroit Lions football team in 2022.
"It's been good, man," Ragnow said about getting all five starters on the field together during minicamp. "Obviously, last year was very frustrating. But it's been good. It's really beneficial for us just to spend time together because that chemistry with the o-line is huge."
Not one time last season did Decker, Jackson, Ragnow, Vaitai and Sewell play a single game together. Decker missed the first half of the season with a finger injury, and Ragnow was lost for the year Week 4 in Chicago with a foot injury.
The Lions are learning a new offense under new coordinator Ben Johnson, and Ragnow said it's been good to have all five starters together in the meeting room and on the field to work through the nuances and tempo changes.
A Pro Bowler in 2020, Ragnow is one of the best centers in the game. He's the glue that keeps it all together upfront for the Lions. His loss was a big one last year, though Evan Brown did a very nice job filling in.
Still, getting Ragnow back is huge for this offense. He said he's in the best shape of his career, and looks forward to taking on the high expectations building for this offensive line. Pro Football Focus projects the Lions to have the third best offensive line in football heading into the season.
Ragnow and Jackson have already been to a Pro Bowl, and Sewell is trending in that direction if he picks up where he left off last year. Decker is consistently one of the top 10 left tackles in the game, and Vaitai didn't allow a single sack last year.
It also helps this is a close-knit group off the field. They hang out together, go to dinner together, and Ragnow even takes some of the guys out fishing. He wouldn't divulge who the worst fisherman in the group is, but that chemistry off the field is something Ragnow sees manifesting itself on the field as well.
"There a lot of unique looks, especially on third down, where some things have to happen without you even saying anything," he said. "And the more reps and more time you spend together, you understand how I might handle that look and how we might pass off that game or what I might be thinking to make the call so they understand and we're all smooth."
The Lions have added "some dudes" as Ragnow puts it at the skill positions on offense, and there's genuine excitement for this offense. But Ragnow, Fraley and everyone else knows it all starts upfront, and those five starters are ready to be the catalyst for what everyone involved expects to be a much better Lions offense in 2022.