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Dog days of training camp have Lions rookie Ragnow missing pooch

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Frank Ragnow

Napa, Calif. — Frank Ragnow couldn’t remember which of his veteran teammates gave him the advice, but it’s become an important part of Detroit Lions rookie offensive lineman’s training camp routine.

“One of the old guy’s advice was to find that hour, that hour a day to kind get away from it, not think about football and keep your mind right to freshly attack it every day,” Ragnow said.

Training camp is a physical and mental grind that extends well beyond the two-plus hours on the practice field. Players are often at the team’s facility well beyond the parameters of a normal work day — in the weight room, the classroom, and sharing three meals together. Then it’s on to the team hotel, where they continue to study their playbooks and watch film, largely quarantined from the outside world.

Ragnow embraces the work. He loves the work. But he’s making sure to find that hour.

And how does he use it?  A family man through and through, he likes to make three calls. One, to his mother Marty, a second to his girlfriend, and a third to his dog, Bear.

Wait, what?

Ragnow got the chocolate Lab last year, just before suffering a season-ending ankle injury last October. And as he battled with the mental hurdle of having to finish his college career on the sidelines, Bear served as a therapy dog, of sorts.

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To say the bond is strong might be an understatement. Ragnow doesn’t just call his dog, who is being watched by his mom until camp wraps up. He actually uses the video chat service FaceTime for some quality one-on-one time.

“I love that dog,” he said.

On the field, Ragnow has been living up to his billing as a first-round draft pick.

“I feel like I don’t hear his name much in meetings, which is a good thing, right?” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “You know, there’s not a lot of, ‘Hey, Frank you’re going the wrong way,’ or ‘Hey, Frank, you’re doing the wrong thing.’ For a rookie, that’s impressive. He’s a smart guy, he takes a lot of pride in what he does and he’s got good guys around him to help him. They communicate really well up there and he received that communication well, which is important, too.”

A center to end his college career, part of Ragnow’s appeal to the Lions was his versatility. He also had experience playing guard in college. This offseason, he’s almost played exclusively at left guard with the first-team offense, which is actually something new, having played on the right side for Arkansas.

Watching him on the practice field most days, you wouldn’t be able to tell. The transition has been nearly seamless. He said playing center, which requires the ability to play to either side, gave him the fundamental understanding of the techniques required to play on the left full-time.

Ragnow’s worst day of practice was the first of two joint sessions with the Oakland Raiders. At times, he looked physically overmatched, and in others, tentative. He rebounded on Wednesday, putting together a much more consistent performance.

“I think I just had to be more aggressive and comfortable,” he said. “There was a little bit of butterflies, a little nerves, a little more tentative approach to everything. I just have to try to learn from the film, like I’ve been trying to do, take it one day of the time.”

That learning experience should prove valuable in his early development and he’ll take the lessons learned from the joint practices into his first preseason game, Friday night against the Raiders.

It’s a moment he’s still trying to wrap his head around.

“I can’t really put words to it,” he said. “This was unreal, coming out to freaking Napa Valley and practicing against the Oakland Raiders. I’m just a kid from Victoria, Minnesota. It’s unreal and I’m just trying to take it all in. 

“It really is living out a dream. I’m trying to enjoy it as much as I can, but keep the goal ahead and keep working hard.”