Two weeks ago, we all watched “Hard Knocks” as offensive tackle Dan Skipper received the bad news. For the sixth season in a row, he had been cut. Despite hanging around the league for that long, he has never made an initial 53-man roster, and the moment was too overwhelming for him to hold in the emotions.
“Anything I can do...?” Skipper said through tears, hoping to find an answer to his six-year-long battle to find a spot on an NFL roster.
“It’s my sixth year in the league, and I’ve never made a team,” Skipper said after the Detroit Lions’ win over the Washington Commanders on Sunday. “It’s tough. You go in, and you’re never quite good enough. You’re not quite enough. You show up every day and you think you’re doing the right things and just for whatever reason, it just doesn’t quite work out. I think I’ve had 20 NFL contracts. They’re not worth the paper they’re written on.”
His “Hard Knocks” story ended with him being cut, but his NFL story just hit a defining chapter during the Detroit Lions’ 36-27 win over the Commanders.
Shortly after being cut, Skipper signed to the practice squad, and after the Lions were hit with injuries to four of their interior offensive linemen (Jonah Jackson, Frank Ragnow, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, and Tommy Kraemer), the Lions turned to Skipper, an unlikely hero.
Skipper had never started an NFL game in his career. That’s tough enough but he had been practicing at tackle for nearly every snap as a pro. The last time he played guard—in a non-preseason game—was as a freshman in college.
At 6-foot-9, tackle is by far the most natural position for Skipper, but when coach Dan Campbell had to decide who would fill in at left guard on Sunday, he turned to the player he trusted the most.
“He knows our offense in and out, he knows all the positions,” Campbell said. “Look, this isn’t the easiest offense to walk right in and learn. We’ve got two new guards, (Drew) Forbes has been here longer than Kayode (Awosika), but we just felt like Skip has a really good understanding of it and we felt like—even though he’s never played guard in a game—we just felt like he was going to hold up. We trust him. I trust him, and he’s a battler.”
Battle he did. Against one of the formidable defensive interiors in the NFL—featuring first-round picks Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen—the Lions racked up 191 rushing yards, 8.0 yards per carry, and while Jared Goff was sacked three times on the day, none of them appeared to be a mistake on Skipper’s part. Oh, and on the longest run of the day from D’Andre Swift, look who was the one blocking 15 yards downfield:
Please watch dan skipper on this block. This guy is 6'9 pic.twitter.com/e0xFKegoR2— David Wheeler (@Dwheelzzz) September 18, 2022
“Trust is a funny thing,” Skipper said after the game. “It takes years to build and seconds break. I just try to keep putting my best foot forward every day. I think with this roster that’s all we’re really trying to do. We’re all just trying to get better every day, whether you’re a starter or a backup or a friggin’ fourth tackle. Doesn’t matter. You’re trying to get better every day and do what’s asked of you and do that (to) the best of your ability.”
Ultimately, Skipper created a memory he’s not likely to forget ever. His first career NFL start, and a big win. He had a hard time finding the words to describe the moment.
“It’s been such a long road,” Skipper said. “Six teams, and like I said, I’ve been cut all over. Just having my wife and kids here and everything else, it just really comes full circle. It’s hard to explain. I don’t know. It’s kind of the first—it kind of makes everything all worth it. All the chaos and the trials. Having (my family) here and playing, it’s just kinda the cherry on top.”