Vaitai could return after Week 4, but at this point, that might not be possible for the team given the injury he is dealing with. As NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport tweeted on Tuesday, September 6, the team is going to have to evaluate Vaitai further at that point to determine if he can even return in 2022.
“The Lions recently placed starting guard placed Halapoulivaati Vaitai on Injured Reserve. He is out the first four games and the team will determine at that point if he’s able to return at all this season. A potentially significant blow to their OL,” Rapoport tweeted.
As Rapoport says, that would be a big blow to Detroit’s depth up front on offense. With Vaitai, the Lions had the makings of a top-five offensive line in the league. Without him, the team could still be alright, but the margin for error would be very slim indeed.
Another injury and the Lions would be facing a situation almost identical to 2021, when multiple starters were out early in the year. Hopes were much higher for a healthier 2022.
Tommy Kraemer Next Man up for Lions
In terms of who’s going to get the call in the wake of the Vaitai injury, reserve guard Tommy Kraemer is the next man up at this point for the team.
Kraemer made the team as an undrafted free agent out of Notre Dame last year, and toiled on the practice squad before being pushed into duty when injury struck Detroit’s line in 2021. Kraemer gained some valuable experience last year, playing in nine games with three starts to his credit.
The team wasted no time elevating Kraemer to being the starter. He was listed on Detroit’s first depth chart of the season as the starting guard in place of Vaitai.
While the pressure is on Kraemer, he had a solid camp and was well-positioned for this reserve role. No doubt he will be ready and willing to accept the challenge of stepping in for Vaitai now.
Vaitai Injury Hurts Lions’ Offensive Line
Losing Vaitai this early in the season represents an early direct blow to Detroit’s potentially elite offensive line ahead of the 2022 season.
Last year, Vaitai enjoyed a solid bounce-back year and is looking forward to continuing to impact the game in a big way for 2022. He’s a solid player in the ground game and also against the pass. If he is lost for a long stretch in 2022, the team might see a slide in productivity given his importance.
It’s good to see Kraemer being thought of highly, as he played games in 2021 and didn’t look overmatched at times. Still, the team will want to see Vaitai back as soon as possible off any potential injury.
Until Week 4 and beyond, the team will be holding their breath and hoping things don’t trend poorly for Vaitai and his recovery goes well in the meantime.
READ NEXT: Lions Week 1 Line Dwindles vs. Eagles