Frank Ragnow’s troublesome toe highlights the Lions unproven OL depth
Pro Bowl center Frank Ragnow is the driving force behind the Detroit Lions’ very impressive offensive line. He’s one of the elite talents at his position.
He’s also playing through a lot of pain. Ragnow suffered a significant injury to his left foot and toe early in the 2021 season. It’s not something that has healed on its own, and Ragnow knows it cannot be fixed with surgery.
“So it would have to be an experimental procedure to get that done and that’s not something the NFL O-linemen are in the business of,” Ragnow said via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
Ragnow also told Birkett that the toe is “inoperable” and the pain was “brutal” for most of last season.
In that 2021 season, Ragnow missed the final 13 games. He was replaced by Evan Brown, who played well in his absence but not at the same consistently high level. Brown also filled in for Ragnow in Week 2 last season, a win over Washington.
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Brown is now in Seattle, signing as a free agent. The current backup center is Ross Pierschbacher, who has played exactly one offensive snap since being a fifth-round pick by Washington in 2019. Graham Glasgow replaced Brown on the roster as a reserve interior lineman, but he’s struggled through major injuries of his own during his three-season sojourn in Denver; he was one of the worst centers in the league in 2022.
It’s a perilous position for the Lions. Coordinator Ben Johnson’s intricate, creative scheme requires strong line play to be effective. Ragnow is the central catalyst to all of that. The rest of the line is highly skilled in its own right, no question about it. But they’re only as great as the weakest link, and if Ragnow’s chronic toe problem becomes too much for him to play or remain at a Pro Bowl level, the weak link is the critical pivot point.
Glasgow was signed as insurance, and he’s a smart signing for that purpose. The thing about insurance is, it’s better to have it than to actually use it. Glasgow has always been a better guard than center. Pierschbacher has virtually no experience. Fifth-round rookie Colby Sorsdal is likely transitioning from FCS-level tackle to NFL guard (he could remain as the swing tackle as well), so expectations should be modest at best. Logan Stenberg Young vets Logan Stenberg and Kayode Awosika aren’t likely to make the team without dramatically better offseason showings than they’ve had in the past.
Even with the outstanding Hank Fraley as the line coach, the depth on the interior is concerning. It could be fine, however. It’s critical to remember expectations for Brown were quite low when he arrived in Detroit. Brown was (deservedly) cut by the Browns and Giants and had shown little reason to engender confidence. He turned out to be a very good long-term fill-in starter at both center and right guard.
Backup center is a situation to watch closely during the offseason and training camp. Whoever gets the job will get considerable practice time, as it appears Ragnow will once again practice no more than once a week.