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Thursday, December 19, 2013
Lions have plans if Pettigrew can't play

By Michael Rothstein

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Brandon Pettigrew hobbled through the Detroit Lions' locker room on Wednesday on crutches. On Thursday, he sat out the second straight day with an ankle injury.

And Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said Wednesday that of some of the players who missed practice because of injury that day, Pettigrew was the most concerning. So there is at least a decent chance the Lions’ top tight end doesn’t play Sunday against the New York Giants.

That can leave Detroit in an interesting predicament. Neither of the other tight ends on the roster, Joseph Fauria or Dorin Dickerson, present the full blocking-and-catching arsenal that Pettigrew does.

Joseph Fauria
The Detroit Lions will turn to Joseph Fauria, 80, and a host of others if starting tight end Brandon Pettigrew can't play.
Much of what the Lions do, especially in the run game, is aided by Pettigrew’s ability as a blocker, so it could leave Detroit with two potential conundrums. Either use Fauria or Dickerson in blocking roles, or bring in an extra offensive lineman, perhaps giving away what the Lions are going to do on a specific play.

“We’re going to have some scenarios there. We’ve got to wait until we get the word on Brandon,” offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “If anyone’s going to answer the bell, it’s going to be him. So Saturday night we’ll figure that out.

“The contingency is to have the next two guys ready to go. Joe’s been in the system all year. Dorin has done a really nice job of picking up what we’re doing. We’ve done extra tackle stuff before, so that’s not new to us.”

The Lions have seen what Fauria and Dickerson have been able to do this season. More and more each week, Fauria has played next to offensive linemen with his hand on the ground, showing signs of becoming an improved blocker.

But even he’ll admit he isn’t fully there yet toward the end of his rookie season. And Dickerson only plays a handful of snaps as it is, so it is unknown how effective he can be in that role.

So that leaves the offensive linemen -- specifically Dylan Gandy and possibly Rodney Austin -- as the sixth offensive linemen. When Tony Scheffler was injured this season, the Lions discussed using Gandy as an emergency tight end/sixth offensive lineman.

“You never know what’s going to happen,” Gandy said. “You just get ready for whatever comes and you take advantage of any opportunity you get.”

For Austin, that could be a first chance. He was signed off the practice squad last month and has yet to be active in a game. But he has consistently worked on his hands, including after practice Thursday.

This is not new for Austin. He did this last season and throughout OTAs in the offseason. He just had not done it as frequently during the regular season.

“Just trying to get back to it,” Austin said Thursday. “Working on my hands. The more you can do, you know.”

Interestingly, Austin seemed more comfortable with his left hand instead of his right hand. This is because he said while his mother made him write with his right hand when he was a kid, he thinks he is a natural lefty.

He said she just didn’t like to see him writing with his left, so he learned with his right.

But if he were to be called on to be an extra lineman or even run routes, Austin would be comfortable with that. After all, it would be a way on the field for a guy who has yet to be active for a game this season.

“I would love that. I run pretty good routes,” Austin said. “I’m pretty quick for a big man. My coach, he prides himself on working on my footwork and getting me right. (Jeremiah Washburn) and (Terry Heffernan), they been getting my footwork down.

“Footwork in one drill can only help you in any other drill, making sure you’re doing the right things with every part of your body that you’re supposed to just makes you a better player overall.”

While having options is nice, Detroit also knows it would be at a loss without Pettigrew, who has been a comfortable target for quarterback Matthew Stafford and a more-than-capable blocker.

Pettigrew has 41 catches for 416 yards this season and, according to Pro Football Focus, has only allowed one sack of Stafford this season.

“Brandon is a good, veteran player and a multidimensional player,” Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said. “He’s done a really nice job for us. I think what you would see is a lot of different people replacing parts of what he did, rather than one person stepping into his role.

“It is still too son to really have a good handle on that. We’ll be ready for a lot of different contingencies, just like a lot of other injuries that we have.”

At a thin position group, though, the Lions will have to have more plans than most.