Allen Park — Injuries are part of football. You’re simply not going to make it through a season without losing players, inevitably a few starters, but some holes are more difficult to plug than others.
Haloti Ngata is well past his prime, but the five-time Pro Bowler was still one of the best defensive linemen on the Detroit Lions’ roster. He was in great shape and already had tallied two sacks, more than he had in 13 games last season. But the elbow injury he suffered in the first half against the Carolina Panthers was bad enough that the team had no choice but to place him on injured reserve Wednesday morning.
“Obviously, he’s an incredible individual, not just in terms for what he does for us on the field, because he’s been able to do a lot of great things for us, but even off the field with his leadership,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “You don’t necessarily don’t go out and find another Haloti Ngata. I mean it’s just not going to happen. But we do have guys that we have in place that we think can get the job done that we ask them to do. We’ll get it done.”
To compensate for the loss of Ngata, the Lions added two players, announcing the signings of Datone Jones and Caraun Reid.
Jones, selected in the first round of the 2013 draft, spent four years with the Green Bay Packers, where he tallied 73 tackles and nine sacks. He was with the Minnesota Vikings this offseason, before being placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury and released with an injury settlement.
“The goal is come here and not knock the train off its course, only put more tracks down to help this team get where we need to be,” Jones said.
The Lions worked out Jones last month. He’s listed at 285 pounds, but is currently closer to 300, making him a good fit to work inside for the Lions. He’ll be making a welcome adjustment to Detroit’s attacking 4-3 front after years playing in Green Bay’s 3-4 defense.
“I like it a lot,” Jones said. “I’m the type of player that will attack and not really read things.”
Reid, 25, returns to the Lions a little more than a year after he was waived by the organization. A fifth-round draft pick in 2014, he spent last season with the Chargers. His best season came in 2015, when he started 12 games and racked up 29 tackles and two sacks.
The Lions waived linebacker Thurston Armbrister to clear the second roster spot.
In addition to Jones and Reid, the Lions will lean more on the other defensive tackles already in the rotation.
Starter A’Shawn Robinson played a career-high 46 snaps against the Panthers after Ngata went out. Akeem Spence, a free-agent addition this past offseason, is the most likely option to take Ngata’s place in the starting lineup. He had three tackles and his first sack of the season last Sunday. And rookie Jeremiah Ledbetter also will be looked at to shoulder a bigger load.
“The next guy has got to step in and play,” safety Glover Quin said. “Haloti, he’s never played 100 percent of the snaps in a game, so there’s been somebody that’s had to come in and give him a breather. Guys have to come in and play more and play at a high level. That’s really the only thing you can do.”
And while Ngata is eligible to return after eight games, reports indicate the injury is a season-ender. He’s in the final season of a two-year extension he signed in 2016, and with his 34th birthday in January, he might not only have played his final snap with the Lions, it may have been the final snap of his career.
He previously acknowledged he strongly considered retirement this past offseason. He even visited with a neurologist to have his brain thoroughly examined before committing to returning.
The No. 12 pick in the 2006 draft, Ngata is considered one of the most dominant defensive tackles of his generation. In 12 seasons, he racked up 498 tackles, 31.5 sacks and six forced fumbles. He’s been named an All-Pro five times and won a Super Bowl ring with the Baltimore Ravens in 2013.
In Caldwell’s opinion, that’s a Hall of Fame resume.
“That’s not for me to judge, but I can tell you if I was voting that he’d certainly be one of those guys that I would vote for,” Caldwell said. “Just look at the impact he’s had on the game.”