Detroit Lions starting right guard T.J. Lang missed his third consecutive practice on Friday, signaling that he’s unlikely to play this week against the San Francisco 49ers thanks to a back injury that caused him to miss the final play of Week 1.
Last year, the Lions had to deal with a massive amount of injuries along the offensive line and it showed. Detroit had one of the worst running games in the league and Matthew Stafford dealt with pressure on a weekly basis.
So this year general manager Bob Quinn went to work on his offensive line depth. While his moves were headline by drafting Frank Ragnow in the first round, he also added offensive tackle Tyrell Crosby in the fifth round of the draft and veteran free agents Kenny Wiggins and Wesley Johnson to help round out the depth in case of injury. While Johnson didn’t stick around after roster cuts, Wiggins did, and it may already be time for him to show why the Lions are more confident in their offensive line depth this year.
Wiggins came from the Los Angeles Chargers, where started 25 games in five years, including all 16 last season. Jeff Davidson, the Lions’ new offensive line coach, spent a year working with him back in 2016.
But for head coach Matt Patricia, it was an easy choice to add Wiggins in free agency.
“We liked everything as far as what he brought to the table as a player, as a teammate, as a professional,” Patricia said on Friday. “(He’s a) guy that’s really just fought and battled his entire career and has always come out on top. And you love those guys, you love those guys that continue to work hard like that to go out and perform.”
And throughout camp Wiggins’ versatility had already been proven useful. Before the season even started, the Lions dealt with injuries to Lang and to starting center Graham Glasgow, and Wiggins filled in wherever the Lions needed him.
“I thought he’s done a great job being very multiple, which is another big thing for offensive linemen,” Patricia said. “You’re only allowed to have so many, and then active for the game you’re only really carrying so many offensive linemen. So the overlap of position coverage has to be at a high value and he’s one of those guys that’s able to do that. He can really flip both sides of the line of scrimmage. About the only thing I don’t have him doing right now is snapping.”
But training camp is one thing, the regular season is another. If Lang can’t go and Wiggins is the Lions’ replacement, the former Charger has quite the task in front of him. The 49ers boast an impressive defensive front—led by defensive tackle DeForest Buckner—that can easily disrupt Detroit’s chemistry on the offensive line.
“It should be a huge challenge for us up front,” Patricia admitted earlier in the week. “They really have great players here on either side ball and certainly their defensive line with the scheme that Coach (Robert) Saleh is implementing there. It’s a very aggressive attacking front that they play. And I think these guys are doing a good job adapting to that and really performing at a high level.”
Wiggins wasn’t all that impressive in the preseason, and the 49ers likely know that. So can the man who has fought and battled against the odds his entire career come out on top again Sunday? We’ll see.