Lions' Ragnow running again as he shares details of season-ending toe injury
Allen Park — Monday was a big day for Frank Ragnow. For the first time since undergoing season-ending surgery on his foot, the Detroit Lions center ran sprints on a football field.
It might seem like cruel timing, the day after the team's season came to an end, but Ragnow was never expecting to come back this year following the surgery to repair a ruptured plantar plate.
Instead, it's a positive step in his progression to return to full football activities. And as things are currently trending, he expects to be completely cleared in a month, putting him on track to fully participate in the team's offseason program.
There are physical hurdles Ragnow must continue to clear in the coming weeks. As for the mental hurdle of missing the final 12 games of the season, he's still not quite over that one, either.
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But his time away from the action has brought Ragnow some perspective.
"I think that was a blessing," he said. "Man, I gained a lot of respect for dudes who fight through injuries throughout their careers. It is a whole different animal because you are a warrior on Sundays, man. When you're in those pads, you feel unstoppable. To be out there in some gym shorts, just watching the guys, it's a humble feeling. To get that side of it, that perspective, will probably be a blessing for me in the future. But it was definitely really hard."
The most difficult part for Ragnow was watching the team's offensive line have success without him. Detroit averaged 4.42 yards per carry in 2021, Detroit's best rushing efficiency in more than two decades.
"It's incredible, man," Ragnow said. "It's been great to see those guys step up. I saw some things — we had a pretty good season running the ball this year and I'm so frustrated I wasn't able to be a part of it. But to see that, with as much injuries as we did have up front, and the different lineups, it's great for the future."
Ragnow suffered his injury in the fourth game of the season. He said it wasn't particularly painful, which led him to initially believe he could play through it. But the damaged tendon is critical for keeping the toe aligned, which would have hindered his effectiveness and opened him up to doing long-term damage.
"I think because it completely ruptured, at first I thought I could completely deal with it because there wasn't much pain," Ragnow said. "But from a functional, balance and a movement standpoint, it was very unrealistic for me to think that I could be the player that I could be."
Ragnow is in awe of previously unproven teammates such as Evan Brown and Tommy Kraemer, who stepped up to fill the void when the team's projected starters were sidelined by injury. In fact, Detroit's projected starting five didn't start a single game together as a unit in 2021, something Ragnow hopes changes next season.
"As much as everybody wants all five to play all 17 games, it really is an unrealistic deal and it's not too common," Ragnow said. "But I would love for it to happen next year, though. To have guys to step in and you don't really skip a beat, or sometimes do better, it's very exciting for the future."
Other injury updates
In addition to Ragnow, several other Lions players provided updates on their injuries heading into the offseason.
Defensive tackle Michael Brockers, who battled multiple ailments throughout the year, starting with a nerve issue in his shoulder during training camp, said he will only need rehab, and not surgery, this offseason.
Meanwhile, tight end T.J. Hockenson is already nearing full strength after undergoing a procedure on his thumb.
“It’s day-by-day, week-by-week," Hockenson said. "I’m almost there already and it’s only been a few weeks. Just a few more left and I’ll be 100 percent by the offseason."
Cornerback Amani Oruwariye suffered a thumb injury, as well, breaking it in the closing minutes of the team's game against Arizona in late December. He also required surgery and said he anticipates resuming training in 4-6 weeks.
Outside linebacker Romeo Okwara, who ruptured his Achilles earlier in the season, is understandably a bit further away as he continues to get around with a boot and crutches. He's hoping to progress to walking in a pool in the near future with an eye on returning for the 2022 season.