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Detroit Lions mailbag: How concerning is D’Andre Swift’s injury?

Part 1 of our Lions mailbag addresses Swift’s injury, Muhlbach’s release and expectations for Darren Fells.

Detroit Lions Training Camp Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions are going through a walkthrough on Wednesday, giving us the perfect opportunity to catch our breath and chit-chat about some of the latest issues facing the team. It’s been an eventful week from the end of an era for one of the team’s most beloved players to an ugly off-field incident that may have cost the NFL careers of two young players.

We’re taking the day off by chatting with y’all and opening our mailbag to our Twitter followers. Myself (Jeremy Reisman) and Erik Schlitt picked out our favorite questions and collaborated on the answers.

Let’s get this thing started.

Jeremy: It seems a few of you are concerned about D’Andre Swift’s ongoing battle with a groin injury, and I can completely understand why. After looking like he was headed for a primary role on offense, he has since been limited, at best, at practice. Truthfully, since the pads have come on, Swift has barely participated in any team drills.

So are the Lions taking the extra precautionary route, or is this groin injury truly something to worry about lingering into the regular season?

Dan Campbell has been pretty upfront with injuries all offseason, so if you are to believe him, this is all precautionary. But it’s really unclear if this is truly trending in the right direction right now.

From two weeks ago:

We’re kind of working him in. We just want to make sure we’re being smart with him. We’ll get him his work.

To Monday:

“Hopefully Swift is feeling better tomorrow and we can progress him in practice”

To Tuesday:

“Today, we’re going to do a little bit more with him off to the side, do a little walkthrough off to the side and then hopefully we can get him out to practice on Thursday is the plan as long as everything goes well. But he’s trending the right way.”

Thursday will tell us a lot, but I think a certain amount of uneasiness is warranted. We’ve seen Swift ramp up practice only to tone it back down the next day. Groins can linger, as we saw with Jeff Okudah last year. But given that Swift plans to be a centerpiece here, it also makes sense to be extra precautious. Overall level of concern right now: 5/10.

Erik: Swift’s injury history is definitely worrisome and it’s fair to feel concerned that he still isn’t practicing in full, but as Jeremy said, soft tissue injuries can linger and there is no rush to push the second most valuable offensive weapon during the preseason. My concerns align more with Dan here, in that his long-term health is more worrisome to me than if he’s playing in August.

Erik: Fells has looked very solid in camp and is the clear choice for the Lions' second option at tight end, but 500-600 snaps would be a big ask for any 35-year-old NFL player. In any given season, an NFL team typically sees roughly 1,000 or more offensive plays. Add in the 17th game this season and we’re closer to 1,100 or 1,200 offensive snaps. Will Fells be on the field for half of the Lions snaps in 2021?

If we look at how Anthony Lynn used his tight ends as coach of the Los Angeles Chargers—a system that heavily favored a top tight end option—it may help us get some perspective. Lynn’s 2020 tight end was Hunter Henry and he saw 913 snaps last season. The remaining four tight ends saw a combined 516 snaps.

So in theory, it’s possible it becomes the T.J. Hockenson and Fells show in 2021 and they see 1,000 and 500 respectively. But in reality, it’s more likely that Fells sees 350-400, and the third tight end (whoever that is) gets around 100-150 snaps.

Jeremy: I think he’s going to push right up against that 500-snap mark. The Lions have shown us in camp a lot of two tight end looks. Given that this team isn’t sporting the most impressive receivers out there and their likelihood to lean on the run game, Fells may simply be one of the 11 best players on offense right now. I agree with Erik that 500+ snaps is a tough ask for a 35-year-old player, but he eclipsed that mark in each of the past two seasons—albeit as the Texans’ No. 1 tight end.

Perhaps the most salient example of how Fells will be used comes from his 2018 season with the Browns. David Njoku tallied 871 snaps on offense, with Fells coming in with 420.

Jeremy: If you’re talking about the 53-man roster, the blunt answer here is none. The depth wide receiver you need to pay attention to right now is Tom Kennedy. He continues to make play after play after play in training camp and in the preseason. Another good sign for him: he’s continuing to get reps as the returner behind Kalif Raymond, while Victor Bolden has slid down to third in the pecking order there.

If you’re talking about practice squad for an undrafted rookie, Javon McKinley may be your best bet followed along by Sage Surratt. Neither has shown up much in camp, but the preseason will truly be their opportunity to shine.

Erik: None. I agree with Jeremy that based on long-term upside, one of them may make it to the practice squad, but despite receiver being a weak position group, they both are behind at least nine other players on my depth chart.

Jeremy: It’s clear the release of Don Muhlbach has elicited a lot of emotions, so let’s address the Mule in the room. What were your thoughts on how the Lions handled that tough situation, Erik?

Erik: It sure sounds like they tried to handle it the right way. Campbell said they had a long sit down with him to discuss what was happening. The media department prepared career graphics and Shelia Ford Hamp had a prepared “thank you” statement ready to be distributed. They also didn’t just announce it via Twitter like most transactions, Campbell took the time to discuss Muhl during a press conference, showing the vet some well-earned respect.

What happens next will be really telling about this organization. When Muhl does retire, will the Lions celebrate him? Will they bring him back in an ambassador role? Muhl was wildly popular throughout the organization, amongst his teammates, and in the community. The Lions will have an opportunity to make him feel appreciated and that could go a long way to rehabbing their image.

Jeremy: I agree with Erik on all the things the Lions did right. In fact, if you haven’t watched Campbell’s presser yet, go watch it. It’s clear this was an incredibly difficult decision for him that had him on the verge of tears.

But sometimes it’s not about what you do, but when you do it. And the Lions definitely did Muhlbach a little dirty by releasing him on his 40th birthday, when his teammates were delivering gifts and cracking jokes on social media.

Why now? The Lions were already under the 85-man limit, and certainly, there wasn’t a rush to sign Rashod Berry, a player who cleared waivers 24 hours before. Maybe they did it to get him an opportunity to sign elsewhere, but that just seems unlikely for a guy who was on the fence about returning for his 18th season. They could have just waited a week and avoided yet another bad PR look. Fans would’ve still been angry, don’t get me wrong, but the timing just made it unnecessarily worse.

That being said, I don’t think this is a situation that will draw much attention from incoming free agents in the future. The man is 40.

Erik: Currently, Taylor Decker is the most tenured Lion and he is entering just his sixth year in the NFL. It would be great if Decker hung around for another decade but if given the choice to pick just one Lion to become the next Muhl and stick around into his 40’s, I agree the answer is Frank Ragnow. Ragnow, believe it or not, is actually the team's third longest-tenured player, and No. 2 on the list may surprise some people?

Jeremy, have you got a guess who No. 2 is?

Jeremy: Is it Reeves-Maybin?

Erik: Nailed it.

Jeremy: Ragnow and Decker are both great answers with great probabilities to be correct. But he who slays the king becomes the next king. Scott Daly, by virtue of just touching Don Muhlbach, has inherited the throne and will be all our favorite player by 2031.

But if all things go correctly, the answer is probably Penei Sewell. The man kid is 20 years old, fergodsakes.

Erik: I’m here for 20 years of Sewell, sign me up.

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