Lions pull together to overcome loss of Decker

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Detroit Lions punter Sam Martin speaks to the news media.

Detroit — Personally, teammates feel awful about the shoulder injury that will reportedly sideline Detroit Lions left tackle Taylor Decker for 4-to-6 months. Professionally, they understand there’s nothing to be gained bemoaning the loss of one of the most important players on the roster.

“As a friend, I feel bad for Decker,” punter Sam Martin said at the team’s charity softball game on Saturday.

The NFL pushes the slogan “Football is Family,” but there’s a lot of truth to the notion. The bond shared by these players is forged through hard work. When one man goes down, there’s an empathetic ripple that spreads across the entire roster. Each player knows he is one bad hit, one wrong step away from being the one out due to injury.

But they also understand it’s the nature of the business. No team, no player is impervious to the injury bug. And every second spent worrying about how you’ll overcome the loss of an individual is a wasted one.

Whether it’s Decker, or even quarterback Matthew Stafford, the games still have to be played. It’s up to the next man on the depth chart to step in and fill the shoes of his downed teammate.

“It happened now, so we have time to bring guys in, guys get to step up, move guys (around), whatever we need to do,” wide receiver Golden Tate said. “We’re going to work with it. It is what it is. That’s the cards we’ve been dealt.”

The Lions have already done two of those things, signing journeyman Tony Hills and shifting second-year lineman Joe Dahl from guard to tackle, where he played in college. Those two, along with Cornelius Lucas and the currently injured Corey Robinson, are expected to compete throughout training camp and the preseason to determine the best stopgap solution.

The magnitude of Decker’s injury probably feels familiar to defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. As a member of the Baltimore Ravens in 2012, defensive leader Terrell Suggs, a first-team All-Pro the year before, suffered an ACL tear in May.

“I don’t want to say it’s deflating, but it’s somebody you know who can help us win games,” Ngata said. “At the same time, lot of guys can step up. If they can see and understand that, it will help our team get better. We’ll just have to see how it goes.”

The injury sidelined Suggs the first six games that season, but the Ravens still managed to start the year 5-1. The team would ultimately go on to win the Super Bowl.

Suggs clearly wasn’t himself, even after he returned, recording four or fewer tackles in eight regular-season appearances. But in the divisional round of the playoffs, a 38-35 victory over Denver, he tallied 10 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble.

“A lot of guys just had to step up, the guys behind him, but he was there to make sure those guys were able to get the job done,” Ngata said. “You can never replace somebody like Terrell Suggs. He’s such a great player. At the same time, he was a great teammate and tried to help out as much as he could.”

Center Travis Swanson said he anticipates Decker similarly being around the team, helping his replacement do the best job he possible can.

“It’s unfortunate what happened, but that’s just part of the business that we’re in,” Swanson said. “Taylor is still going to be around, we just have to have that next-man-up mentality until he’s ready.”