Injuries are the worst part of football. Players missing entire seasons to an injury can lead to lost seasons for their teams. Losing a season can derail careers or cost a player millions of dollars. No NFL team escapes a season completely unscathed, and the Detroit Lions were no different in 2022.
The Lions lost starting guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai and defensive lineman Levi Onwuzurike before the season even started. Safety Travon Walker III only played in three games before suffering a season-ending injury. Then there is new signee in Emmanuel Moseley who missed all but five games this past season with the San Fransisco 49ers. Third-round pick Hendon Hooker was receiving first-round buzz before he suffered a torn ACL late in the season.
Rehab is different for every player. Even with the same injuries, timelines vary. As far as current medical science has come, there is no guarantee that a player will return to the same level they played before their injury.
The five aforementioned Lions all missed time with their own different injuries. Here is what to expect from these Detroit Lions players during the 2023 season.
Hendon Hooker is taking a redshirt year as a rookie
This one is easy to determine. In an interview with the “Green Light Podcast” head coach Dan Campbell said Hooker was expected to take a redshirt season with the team in 2023.
“He’s got to get this leg right first and then he’ll learn under Jared (Goff), and then let’s see what happens. If he can eventually become your two or maybe down the road, later on, it’s more than that, but it’s going to be a long time,” Campbell said.
There is no clear timeline for Hooker’s return to the field. Campbell’s comments could signal Hooker spends the season as the third quarterback on the depth chart whether he is healthy enough to play or not. Veteran Nate Sudfeld or a late free agent signing would serve as the primary backup to Goff.
Emmanuel Moseley is expected to start opon return from ACL injury
Like Hooker, Moseley missed significant time with an ACL tear. He signed a one-year, $6 million deal with Detroit to start opposite fellow signee Cam Sutton.
Also like Hooker, there is not an obvious timeline on when Moseley will return to the field. In an interview back in March, Moseley indicated he was about five months from recovery, and hinted that he would be ready for the regular season. Assuming Moseley’s prediction is correct, he and Sutton will form an instant upgrade at corner over the team’s 2022 starting corners. Both players offer versatility to play in the slot; however, Alabama product Brian Branch is likely to fill that role.
Until Moseley returns, whether that is training camp, preseason or the regular season, Jerry Jacobs is likely to receive starting corner reps opposite Sutton for the time being.
Tracy Walker III returns to an upgraded Detroit Lions safety room
Walker is set to make a full return to the field by training camp. After tearing his achilles early in the 2022 season, Walker has already been a participant with the Lions during OTAs.
He returns to a Lions’ safety group that has added talent during the 2023 offseason. Joining him and second-year player Kerby Joseph is C.J. Gardner Johnson and Branch. The depth and versatility the Lions have at safety will allow them to give numerous looks on defense. Gardner-Johnson and Branch can both play in the slot. It will not be a surprise if the Lions play a lot of three-safety looks this upcoming season.
The depth at safety provides Walker with some runway to fully recover from his injury, but once he reaches 100 percent, he should help take this unit to another level.
Levi Onwuzurike has a lot to prove after returning from injury
Onwuzurike did not stand out during his rookie season with the Lions. In 184 pass rush snaps, Onwuzurike was able to generate three pressures and tally a single sack. Those are not exactly awe-inspiring numbers. He re-injured a back injury during the 2022 offseason, and missed the entire year. Now he is set to return for 2023.
Onwuzurike has more competition for interior defensive line reps. Isaiah Buggs proved to be a replacement-level starter during the 2022 season, and the team drafted Brodric Martin late in the third round of the 2023 draft. Onwuzurike will have to make significant strides in his development to steal a starting spot next to Alim McNeil. He will have to outperform Martin and Benitor Jones just to earn rotational snaps.
Onwuzurike was a second-round pick for a reason. If he can stay healthy he will have as good a chance as any Lions player to receive significant interior defensive line snaps.
Halapoulivaati Vaitai returns to competition
After missing all of 2023, Vaitai will face competition for the team’s starting right guard position. Detroit signed Graham Glasgow to return for a second stint with the Motor City. In the late rounds of the draft, the team selected Colby Sorsdal as a developmental guard as well. Both Glasgow and Sorsdal are expected to take part in the competition with Vaiatai for the starting right guard spot; although, the rookie is a distant third in the competition.
Vaitai restructured his contract this offseason. He is on a much more team-friendly deal that ends after the 2022 season. If he can return to his 2021 form, he will be a favorite to win the starting spot. Glasgow took a step back in performance in 2022 with the Denver Broncos.
Guard is not a sexy competition to feature, but it is going to be one of the most important for the Detroit Lions this offseason.
For more from the author, Thomas Chavez, check him out on Twitter here: @tlchavez43
Featured Image Credit: © Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK
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