One of the biggest questions about player-led team and individual offseason workouts was, “What happens when somebody gets hurt?” Whether it’s due to the noncontact drills actually being noncontact, or low participation, or less strenuous workouts, there hadn’t yet been a notable injury . . . until yesterday.
According to Dave Birkett of the Freep, Jeff Backus has partially torn his left pectoral muscle, and will be unavailable for the near future—possibly missing however much training camp there is. Birkett has said he’s been told it’s “not serious,” which in Lions-speak means he won’t miss more than one or two regular-season games, if any.
There’s no doubt that offensive line depth is an issue—especially proven offensive line depth the Lions could count on to start a game or two. With Gosder Cherilus a pure right tackle (and recovering from major surgery himself), it’s unlikely they swing him over to the left side. Will the Lions have to make a play for a veteran free agent to hold things together? I think the answer is “no,” for a variety of reasons.
First, Jeff Backus has been the Lions’ starting left tackle for ten years, without fail. That’s 160 consecutive games. He’s played through injuries before, most notably a intercostal rib muscle he tore while warming up right before a game. Granted, he was terrible in that game, but he played—and Backus has weeks, not hours, before he’ll have to suck it up and play this time around. He should be ready to go when it counts.
Second, any veteran free agent the Lions sign is going to know they have no hope of a starting job. Guys like Doug Free and Jared Gaither are looking for places where they can earn a long-term gig; Detroit isn’t that place. Backus is playing the best football of his life right now, signing with Detroit would get a free agent veteran a prime spot on the bench and a bus ticket.
Finally, this might be a blessing in disguise. The Lions need to know what they have in 2010 fourth-round pick Jason Fox; heavy training camp reps against the Lions’ stacked DE corps will help them find out. Rookie seventh-rounder Johnny Culbreath should get a lot more reps, as well—exactly what he needs to help adjust to the speed and power of NFL defensive ends.
Don’t get me wrong, if it’s a blessing in disguise it’s a pretty heavy disguise. I have every confidence in Jeff Backus to do what he needs to do to be out there, but if he’s at any less than his best, the offense will suffer. And, for as much press as the defensive line (deservedly) gets, this team’s identity really is the passing offense. Stafford and the Transformers will be expected to average thirty-or-so points per game, and if Backus is unavailable or ineffectual, that will be a very tough task . . .
. . . but a decade of reliability should have earned Backus our trust. I’d rather the Lions focus on adding talent to the back seven than adding a safety net for Jeff Backus.