Detroit Lions lose RG Halapoulivaati Vaitai to back injury before season opener

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The Detroit Lions have lost a starting offensive lineman to injury for their season opener for the second year in a row.

The Lions placed right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai on the injured reserve on Monday, meaning he will miss at least the first four games of the regular season. The Lions open the season on Sunday against Vaitai’s old team, the Philadelphia Eagles.

Vaitai played 29 snaps in the Lions’ preseason loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the same as the rest of the team’s offensive line, but sat out the team’s only open practice last week with a back injury.

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Detroit Lions offensive tackle Penei Sewell (58) talks to offensive tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai (72) during warm-ups on Friday, August 13, 2021 before a preseason game against Buffalo Bills at Ford Field in Detroit.

He missed six games in 2020 with a foot injury and one game each due to a brain injury and last season due to COVID-19.

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The Lions have high hopes for their line this fall after injuries derailed the unit in 2021. Left tackle Taylor Decker broke his finger in practice for last year’s season opener and missed the first eight games of the season, and Pro Bowl center Frank Ragnow missed most of the season with a foot injury.

The Lions’ projected starting line did not click together in 2021.

With Vaitai out, the Lions will turn to Tommy Kraemer or Logan Stenberg in his absence. Kraemer made three starts as an uneducated rookie last season, playing right-wing with the second-team offensive line for most of the camp. Stenberg, who mainly worked at the left hat this summer, missed most of the season last season with a knee injury.

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The Lions also got Drew TBEN on waivers from the Cleveland Browns on Monday. TBEN, a sixth-round pick of the Browns in 2019, appeared in three career games. He spent parts of the 2019 and 2021 season in an injured reserve with a knee injury and chose not to see 2020 amid COVID.

Lions coach Hank Fraley has embraced the expectation that his unit will be one of the NFL’s best this season, citing the depth of the line late last month as one of the reasons why.

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Kraemer, backup center Evan Brown and sixth lineman Matt Nelson saw a lot of playing time last year due to injuries.

“We have a bunch of righteous professionals in that group,” Fraley said. “You know, a lot of those guys have been there. The team hasn’t changed much in the O-line room, but they just go out and work and they work well together, and we definitely have that play mentality. Whoever is there , we get the job done. Plug and play too, that’s how it was last year and that’s nice to see.”

Contact Dave Birkett at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Lions place Halapoulivaati Vaitai on injured reserve