Allen Park — The Lions made it a priority this offseason to upgrade the offensive line and improve the pass protection for quarterback Matthew Stafford.
But in the third and final week of organized team activities, Lions coach Jim Caldwell delivered some unsettling news on Tuesday, announcing left tackle Taylor Decker is out indefinitely after having shoulder surgery.
Caldwell said Decker, 23, suffered the injury in practice last week and had it repaired on Monday, but declined to get into specifics about the injury and how it happened.
"Sometimes they're non-contact injuries. I'm not saying this is one of them, but I'm just talking about it doesn't require any forceful contact for it to happen,” Caldwell said. “One of the things you can assure is we've been practicing the same way for years and years and years. We've had spotters out there, NFLPA, and we've never been cited and never had an issue in that regard. We comply by the rules but things happen sometimes in practice. Just the nature of business."
Caldwell said there is no timetable yet for Decker’s return. However, Caldwell said he doesn’t think it will keep Decker out for the 2017 season.
“Anytime that you've had surgery, you just don't know details how long it'll actually take, so we'll update you in the fall,” Caldwell said.
The injury is an unexpected setback for Decker (6-foot-7, 311 pounds), who was coming off a solid rookie campaign where he started all 16 regular-season games and the Lions’ playoff loss to the Seahawks. Stafford and Decker were the only two Lions to play every single offensive snap last season.
"He played a lot of football for us, so I think that certainly bodes well. It's a little different for a guy that didn't play much for you to expect him to do something for you in the fall,” Caldwell said. “I think he's one of those guys that certainly has proven he can play in this league. He's getting better and really coming along, making more and more progress.”
Decker’s loss could leave the Lions in a bind up front depending on how long he’s sidelined, but there are several possible in-house replacements in Cornelius Lucas, Joe Dahl and Corey Robinson.
Caldwell said right tackle Ricky Wagner is capable of switching sides but doesn't appear to be one of the first options.
Dahl and Lucas split first-team reps at left tackle during Tuesday’s OTAs, while Robinson (6-7, 317) is still on the mend from a foot injury suffered in the regular-season finale against the Packers.
Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said he’s comfortable with the versatility and experience Lucas (6-9, 330) brings to the spot.
“Lucas has played a bunch of snaps for us. He's played left tackle, he's played right tackle, sometimes he's gone into a game not expecting to play and then been thrown in on the fifth snap of the game and played the whole game,” Cooter said. “Other games maybe the day of the game he's found out he's had to play. He's always been really resilient, always handled his role really well and we know what we got in Cornelius.”
Dahl (6-4, 305) is entering his second season after playing sparingly as a rookie, but started at left tackle his final two seasons at Washington State.
"I think there's always a little bit of a comfort level when you're able to go back to doing something you used to do — could be a stance, could be a footwork thing and everybody does different technique things in college and Joe is no different,” Cooter said.
“We're kind of seeing what we can see about Joe Dahl. We are going to get reps for everybody everywhere and really make sure we evaluate the situation pretty in depth. We're going to look into it and figure out the best plan.”
And that plan could include looking at outside options, something Caldwell said he wouldn’t rule out.
"It's just kind of the nature of our game,” Caldwell said. “You got to adjust and that's one of the things that I think our personnel office always does a great job of, I think our players do a tremendous job of. We adjust and we keep moving."