Decker underwent surgery on his shoulder on Monday after injuring it in practice last week, according to Lions head coach Jim Caldwell. Although no timetable was given for Decker’s potential return, it sounds as if he could be a candidate for the injured reserve to start the season, able to return in time when he’s healthy.
At the soonest, Decker will be out until training camp, and Caldwell would not rule out the possibility of missing regular-season games, only saying he did expect Decker to play at some point this season.
The Lions had considered the offensive line a team strength after this offseason, having added high-priced free agents Ricky Wagner and T.J. Lang — but that was considering Decker being in the fold. The 16th overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft, Decker is coming off a strong rookie season in which he successfully replaced Riley Reiff and was strong in pass protection. The team views him as a future Pro Bowl pick.
Without him, they might have an issue. There is no clear-cut swing tackle who could step in, although college left tackle Joe Dahl, who mostly has worked inside with the Lions, took first-team reps in Decker’s absence. Other candidates who could step in there include Corey Robinson and Cornelius Lucas, per the Detroit Free Press. Wagner will remain at right tackle for now but could be asked to slide over if there’s an issue.
The Lions open with the Arizona Cardinals, New York Giants, Atlanta Falcons, Minnesota Vikings, Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints — all of whom have strong pass rushers on the defensive right side — prior to the Lions’ bye week.
Thankfully for the Lions, if Decker does miss the start of the regular season, new NFL rules will help them this season. The league approved an additional player being allowed to return from IR designation, increasing it from one player to two who can land back on the active roster.
OTA sessions are non-paddded practices with no live contact. Teams can run 7-on-7, 9-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills with helmets and basic shells, but there’s no hitting or tackling allowed, per the rules of the CBA, so it’s not clear how Decker might have suffered a potentially serious shoulder injury.
This is the type of story no team wants to have happen in June, but at least there’s time for Decker to recover and for the Lions to come up with contingency plans if this injury leaks into the start of the season.
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