Back at full strength, Lions' offensive line dreams of greatness

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Last season was agony for Frank Ragnow. The typically durable offensive lineman was sidelined much of the campaign with a severe toe injury that required surgery. 

Ragnow didn't start running again until the day after the season ended. Within a month after that he was "back to being Frank." 

A toe injury limited Lions center Frank Ragnow to four games in 2021.

"You just start to question, 'Am I going to be the same player?'" Ragnow said Thursday, describing the mental hurdles a player deals with while injured. "Even just getting through this offseason and getting back into my groove, I'm like, 'Am I even going to be able to squat the same way?' Then I check that box off and kind of slowly climb it, and you get that confidence back hopefully."

The Lions entered last season with such high hopes for the team's offensive line, but those best-laid plans were quickly derailed, first by a finger injury that sidelined Taylor Decker the first eight weeks, followed closely by Ragnow's injury. In all, the team started nine different players up front and the projected starting five never shared the field

But in a world where roster continuity is difficult to maintain year-to-year, the Lions are blessed to have that five back in the fold this season and are looking forward to getting the vision back on track. 

"I think we can be pretty dang good," Ragnow said. "It's obviously all on us, and it's really where we want to take ourselves and push ourselves. But if you look talent-wise and just look at the dudes across the line, I mean, they were pretty dang good last year too. I'd love to help them and boost them, and I think if we all get going and jell and stay healthy, I think we can be a pretty dang good O-line."

Guard Jonah Jackson, who was named to the Pro Bowl in his second season last year, took it a step further. 

“I said it last year, and I’m (going to) stand on it, man, I think we can be the best in the league," Jackson said. "I know we can be the best in the league. We just got to come up to work every day.”

Even with the injuries up front, the Lions finished 11th in the league in rushing efficiency, averaging 4.4 yards per carry. That was the team's best mark in that area in decades. The team's pass blocking was more middle of the pack, but that's somewhat understandable given Decker's lengthy absence and rookie Penei Sewell learning the ropes while ping-ponging between left and right tackle. 

Regardless, running back D'Andre Swift has been licking his chops thinking about running behind the line at full strength. 

"Yeah, that crosses my mind at least once a day," Swift said with a big smile. "Having all them healthy, that’d mean the world. Getting Frank back, getting Deck back healthy, Penei going into his second year — his confidence has been amazing since he’s been in the building. So I feel like we’re gonna be good. If we can stay right up front, we’ll be fine."

Dare to dream

It was reported this week that San Francisco wide receiver Deebo Samuel has requested a trade. As speculation rapidly picked up, the NFL Network listed the Lions as a potential landing spot.

Quarterback Jared Goff chuckled when he was asked if he'd like to see the Lions make a play for Samuel. 

"Yeah, of course. He’s a great player and one of the best in the league," Goff said. "Again, not up to me. You’ve got to ask (general manager) Brad (Holmes) all these questions, they aren’t for me."

The Lions have already invested heavily in receiver this offseason, re-signing Josh Reynolds and Kalif Raymond, while bringing on former Pro Bowler DJ Chark to fill the team's void for a big-bodied 'X' wideout on the outside. 

Still, Samuel's resume trumps anything the Lions have on the roster. Despite finishing 21st in targets last season, his 1,405 yards ranked fifth. That doesn't even account for his rare versatility as a ball carrier. He took 59 handoffs in 2021, gaining 365 yards and scoring eight times. 

Presumably, deals made for Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill set the bar for any talks with the 49ers. Green Bay sent Adams to the Raiders for a first- and second-round pick, No. 22 and No. 53 overall. Meanwhile, the Chiefs received a first (No. 29), second (No. 50), two fourths and a sixth for Hill.

That suggests it would take Detroit's No. 32 and 34 choices in the upcoming draft to land Samuel. Additionally, like Adams and Hill, the Lions would need to sign Samuel to a long-term extension, almost certain to top $25 million per season. 

No knock on 'Hard Knocks' 

The Lions are scheduled to be featured on this year's version of "Hard Knocks," an HBO documentary season that provides a behind-the-scenes look at NFL training camp. This won't be the first time for Goff, who was on the show in 2016 and 2020 while playing for the Los Angeles Rams. 

"It’s not as bad as you think it is, is the first thing I’ll say," Goff said. "I think for the young guys it’s always hard, because they don’t know any better. You have to be careful what you say and when you say it once the cameras are around. But for the most part, they’re trying to make us look good — the NFL is trying to make Detroit look good."

Swift, who has been one of the team's quieter players since being drafted in 2020, is surprisingly looking forward to the opportunity to showcase more personality.

"Oh, man, that’s a blessing," Swift said about the Lions being selected for the show. "As a kid, I always used to watch that type of stuff. Getting the opportunity to have that, it’s a blessing. We still got to work, but that’s going to be cool to look back on someday."

Way out there

Ragnow, an avid outdoorsman who has shared his adventures with his late father and two brothers on his YouTube channel "Grizzly Man Outdoors," was asked his best adventure this offseason. 

"I went up to the top of Manitoba, 14 hours above Minnesota, and we were up deep in the bush," Ragnow recalled. "We were taking snowmobiles through this old trappers' path, seven feet of snow on either side of you. If you fall, you're done. Thirteen miles, ducking sticks and trees and stuff like that, to catch big lake trout. It was sick."

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers