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Vaitai ready to bounce back after injury-plagued first year in Detroit

Halapoulivaati Vaitai started training camp this year with high expectations on what he can bring to the Detroit Lions' offensive line, and in good health to accomplish it.

That's a long way from how he began last season with the Lions.

He arrived with the same high hopes after signing as a free agent. Vaitai had played both guard and tackle the previous four seasons with the Eagles, and that experience made him a good fit at right tackle in the Lions' offensive scheme.

Unfortunately for Vaitai – and the Lions – those plans were derailed by a foot injury sustained before the start of the regular season. He missed the first three games of the regular season and wound up playing 10 games at right guard.

He was never able to perform at the level expected of him. It wasn't until spring that the foot stopped bothering him, Vaitai said after Friday's training camp practice.

"Obviously, it was unfortunate last year," he said. "I tried to give it my all last year. I tried to help the team win. It's one of those things. I pushed through, paid the price. It was hard."

The Lions have settled on a five-man unit that has the potential of making their offensive line one of the NFL's top units.

Left tackle Taylor Decker, left guard Jonah Jackson and Pro Bowl center Frank Ragnow are veteran holdover starters.

Rookie Penei Sewell also is learning a new position in a switch to right tackle from left tackle, where he played at Oregon.

Vaitai has experience at right guard, but it hasn't been a primary position in his career. He's still adjusting.

"I help both sides, left and right," he said. "You've got the center and the right tackle. There are just different rules and terminology."

Vaitai and the entire offensive line are benefitting from head coach Dan Campbell's decision to retain Hank Fraley as offensive line coach.

Fraley played center for 11 NFL seasons. He has coached the Lions' offensive line the last four years. He took over as the unit's primary coach in 2020 after two seasons as assistant line coach.

Fraley has seen Vaitai progress in the offseason program and in the first 10 days of training camp, which included three practices in full pads.

"He's progressed well," Fraley said. "He's put a couple good days together. He's trying to knock off the rust. Everybody's trying to get their football legs again.

"You get out here, you get your legs back."

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