The The Detroit Lions are discussing several different options to replace injured right guard Halapulivaati Vaitai in their starting lineup, including moving two first-round picks from their starting positions.
Lions coach Dan Campbell said he will use Wednesday’s practice to experiment with different lineups on the offensive line. One possibility, he said, is to move right tackle Penei Sewell to guard and play Matt Nelson at tackle. Another is moving Pro Bowl center Frank Ragnow to right guard and letting Evan Brown play center.
“We’re exploring everything,” Campbell said. “We’re going to give some different looks to guys today … and we might mix some things up, but we’re going to come up with the best combination that we think will give us the best chance to win.”
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The Lions shuffled their offensive line personnel before the season opener last year when Taylor Decker suffered a finger injury in practice that kept him out of the first eight games of the season.
Sewell, who spent all of 2021 training camp playing right tackle, moved to left tackle and Nelson started at right tackle, with Sewell returning to the right side when Decker was healthy.
The idea, Campbell said at the time, was to have the best five-line combination on the field.
If the Lions take that approach again in Vaitai’s absence, Sewell could move inside for this week’s season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles, where he would face top defensive tackles Javon Hargrave and Fletcher Cox.
Sewell didn’t play any snaps at guard last season or this summer, but he worked at both right guard and right tackle during the individual session Wednesday.
Ragnow, a 2020 Pro Bowler, played left guard as a rookie in 2018 but has been the Lions’ primary starting center the past three seasons. Brown played well in 12 starts at center last season when Ragnow was sidelined with a foot injury.
The Lions could also play Tommy Kraemer at right guard or move Pro Bowl left guard Jonah Jackson to right guard and have Logan Stenberg play left guard, Campbell said. Kraemer did not practice Wednesday and Stenberg took reps at both left and right guard.
“(Playing) Logan would be an (option),” Campbell said. “Moving Frank over would be one. Obviously that would hit Evan. And there’s probably a possibility that if it was Logan, then we’d move Jonah to the right and bring Logan to the left. We’re talking about Sewell to drop to the guard and Nelson go up for tackle, so we’ve got options here. And we’ve put together some — there’s not a ton of live replays with some of these guys, but they’ve played it before. We always (on the walk- it’s ) to roll those guys (at different positions). They play a lot of positions, so we’ll be prepared.”
Vaitai, the Lions’ starting right guard the past two seasons, suffered a back injury in the Lions’ preseason finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Campbell said Vaitai’s injury does not require surgery, but there is no current timetable for his return. The Lions placed Vaitai on injured reserve on Monday, meaning he will miss at least the first four games of the season.
Asked if he regretted playing with his starting lineup against the Steelers when Vaitai and the rest of the offensive line played 29 snaps, Campbell said “no,” but added, “I hate it for him.”
“I really do,” he said. “I hate it.”
This article originally appeared in the Detroit Free Press: Detroit Lions’ replacement options for Halapoulivaati Vaitai