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Breaking down the Lions’ backup options at center vs. Jaguars

Starting center Frank Ragnow could miss Week 6’s game. So here’s how the Lions may respond.

Chicago Bears v Detroit Lions Photo by Amy Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Detroit Lions offensive line took another hit this week as star center Frank Ragnow suffered a groin injury this week at practice, but it looks like he could still play this week against the Jacksonville Jaguars. In fact, he returned to practice on Friday in a limited fashion and is officially listed as questionable Sunday.

However, we Lions fans must live by Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. So, let’s talk about what the Lions will do if Ragnow cannot play this Sunday. Seeing as any center is a critical piece to the puzzle, and Ragnow has been playing particularly well, this is no minor decision for Detroit. Let’s break it all down.

Open roster spot

First things first: the Lions have an open roster spot after placing rookie tight end Hunter Bryant on injured reserve on Friday. Bryant has been inactive all season, so there’s no need to replace Bryant with a tight end on the 53-man roster.

Instead, the Lions would be wise to add an offensive lineman to their active roster just in case. Joe Dahl is the easy and obvious option. Dahl returned to practice this week and still remains on IR, but he is eligible to return at any time. At this point, he’s only three practices in, but head coach Matt Patricia likes what he has seen already.

“I thought on Wednesday with the pads on, I thought Joe looked pretty good,” Patricia said on Friday. “Came out, his pad level was good, I thought he moved well, that was a good, competitive practice for us.”

The other two players eligible to return from IR this week—running back Bo Scarbrough and cornerback Mike Ford—are not needed, so Dahl is almost certainly going to get the nod.

However, let’s not forget that Detroit can promote a couple players on the practice squad that won’t necessitate an open roster spot. That’s where Beau Benzschawel comes into the equation. If Detroit wants to be extra cautious, they can both activate Joe Dahl from IR—taking up the open roster spot—and promote Benzschawel from the practice squad to ensure they have sufficient depth.

Who plays center?

Not to alarm you, but Frank Ragnow is literally the only player on the Lions roster who has ever taken an NFL snap at center. However, there are players that have played there in the preseason and plenty that have taken reps in training camp and practice. Here are a few of the candidates.

Joe Dahl - Dahl seems like the most likely candidate to take over. The Lions’ 2016 fifth-round pick has never made a start at center—in fact, he’s never taken a snap there—but he has cross trained there for essentially his entire Lions career, and he’s played there in the preseason, too. The big downside here, though, is that Dahl is coming off an injury and would be playing a position where he barely practiced at all this offseason. This week, he would’ve only had two chances to rep there during practice. Halapoulivaati Vaitai went through a similar progression moving from tackle to guard midweek off an injury, and the results were ugly in Week 3.

Jonah Jackson - The Lions rookie has already made starts at left and right guard, so why not make it a full trifecta? Jackson played some center at Rutgers, so the position isn’t completely foreign him. But how much pressure do you want to put on the rookie?

Beau Benzschawel - Since late 2019, the Lions have been grooming Benzschawel at center. Once he was healthy in training camp this year, Benzschawel was taking most of the second-team center reps. He also played one preseason game there in 2019.

However, Benzschawel has never taken an NFL snap, and he is a complete unknown. The Lions have kept Benzschawel on the practice squad and have not used their weekly practice squad protection on him, so that may be an indication that the Lions don’t think he’s ready.

Kenny Wiggins - The team’s oldest offensive lineman has literally been trained at every single position on the offensive line. Like Dahl and Benzschawel, he’s played some center in the preseason, but never in a regular season game.

Logan Stenberg - The Lions’ fourth-round pick has not played a single snap yet in his rookie season, but he cross trained at center when Benzschawel was injured in training camp. However, Stenberg had never played center before and it certainly showed in practice.

Best five linemen?

Matt Patricia has often said he prefers to have his five best offensive linemen out there, no matter what positions they play. That’s why the Lions—like most teams—try to cross train their players as much as possible.

So if the Lions stick with tradition here, that would almost certainly make this the lineup for Sunday:

Left tackle: Taylor Decker
Left guard: Jonah Jackson/Joe Dahl
Center: Jonah Jackson/Joe Dahl
Right guard: Halapoulivaati Vaitai
Right tackle: Tyrell Crosby

This route also has the benefit of keeping most of the players where they’ve played and practiced at over the past few weeks. The Lions’ preference is probably Dahl over Jackson at center, simply not to overload the rookie’s plate this early in his career. That being said, Jackson has played center more recently than Dahl.

Best fits

If the Lions were simply going to go by which player fits best at each position, the lineup would probably look something like this:

Left tackle: Taylor Decker
Left guard: Joe Dahl
Center: Beau Benzschawel
Right guard: Jonah Jackson
Right tackle: Halapoulivaati Vaitai

The benefit of this route is that Detroit’s ideal lineup with everyone healthy looks exactly like this, but with Frank Ragnow at center. So everyone would be at the position they’ve been training at since the beginning of the year.

However, there is a pretty big risk of putting Benzschawel—in his first NFL action on offense—at the all-important center position. That being said, it’s where he’s been training since late last year. If he’s not ready now, he may never be.

I posed the question on Twitter, and now I pose it to you: What is your ideal offensive line setup for Sunday if Frank Ragnow doesn’t play?

Poll

What is your ideal lineup for Sunday (left to right)?

This poll is closed

  • 42%
    Decker - Jackson - Dahl - Vaitai - Crosby
    (172 votes)
  • 7%
    Decker - Dahl - Jackson - Vaitai - Crosby
    (30 votes)
  • 43%
    Decker - Dahl - Benzschawel - Jackson - Vaitai
    (177 votes)
  • 6%
    Other
    (27 votes)
406 votes total Vote Now