Detroit Lions lose RG Halapoulivaati Vaitai to preseason back injury

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The The Detroit Lions lost a key offensive player to injury before the start of the season for the second year in a row.

The Lions placed right guard Halapulivaati Vaitai on injured reserve Monday, meaning he will miss at least the first four games of the regular season. The Lions open the season Sunday against Vaitai’s old team, the Philadelphia Eagles.

Vaitai played 29 snaps in the Lions’ season-ending loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the same as the rest of the team’s starting offensive line, but sat out the team’s only open practice last week with a back injury.

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Detroit Lions offensive tackle Penei Sewell (58) talks to offensive tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai (72) during warmups Friday, Aug. 13, 2021, before a preseason game against the Buffalo Bills at Ford Field in Detroit.

He missed six games with a leg injury in 2020 and one game each with a brain injury and with COVID-19 last season.

The Lions have high hopes for their line this fall after injuries derailed the unit in 2021. Left tackle Taylor Decker broke his finger in practice before the start of last season and missed the first eight games of the season and center Pro Bowler Frank Ragnow missed most of the season with a foot injury.

The Lions’ projected starting lineup didn’t play a single snap together in 2021.

With Vaitai out, the Lions will turn to either Tommy Kraemer or Logan Stenberg in his absence. Kraemer made three starts as an undrafted rookie last season and played right guard with the second-team offensive line for most of camp. Stenberg, who worked primarily at left guard this summer, missed most of last season with a knee injury.

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The Lions also claimed Drew Forbes off waivers Monday from the Cleveland Browns. A sixth-round pick by the Browns in 2019, Forbes appeared in three career games. He spent parts of the 2019 and 2021 seasons on injured reserve with a knee injury and sat out 2020 during COVID.

Lions offensive line coach Hank Fraley has embraced expectations that his unit will be one of the NFL’s best this season, and he cited linebacker depth as a reason late last month.

Kraemer, backup center Evan Brown and sixth lineman Matt Nelson saw a lot of playing time due to injuries last year.

“We’ve got a ton of professionals on this team,” Fraley said. “You know, a lot of those guys have been around. The team hasn’t changed much in the O-line room, but they just go out there and work and work well together, and we definitely have that game mentality. Whoever’s in there, we get the job done. Plug and play, too, that’s how it was last year, and it’s fun to watch.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

This article originally appeared in the Detroit Free Press: Detroit Lions place Halapoulivaati Vaitai on injured reserve

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