Running back Kevin Jones, who made major strides catching the ball out of the backfield in Mike Martz's offense, is finished for the season and possibly for a part of 2007 as well if Lions' fears are well-founded.
Jones, a former first-round draft pick in his third NFL season, suffered a foot injury Sunday in the fourth quarter of the Lions' 30-20 loss to the Vikings. Coach Rod Marinelli confirmed Monday that Jones is out for the rest of the year.
The Lions have declined to identify the exact nature of the injury that left Jones on the turf in excruciating pain for several minutes but did not deny the possibility that, even after surgery, Jones could require as much as a full year to complete his rehab and be ready to play again.
The immediate concern is for the loss of Jones and what it does to the Lions' already-struggling offense.
Marinelli referred to Jones as "a tremendous player" and "a workhorse for us," in terms of his development during the past 10 months, since the Lions began installing Martz's offense during the offseason workouts last spring.
Although Jones finished the 2006 season with 692 yards rushing, well below the career best of 1,133 he registered as a rookie in 2004, his receiving yardage of 453 had more than doubled his total yards in his first two seasons.
Even in the game that turned out to be his last of the season, Jones was able to contribute to the Lions offense with six receptions for 67 yards and a touchdown. However, he was held to minus-3 yards on nine carries by the Vikings' No. 1-rated defense.
Jones was injured in a goal-line situation when he tried to tried to score from the 1-yard line by going over the top. He was hit and pushed back by Minnesota defenders, immediately grabbing his left foot as the Lions medical staff rushed onto the field.
Going into the past weekend, Jones ranked 11th among all NFL players in total yards from scrimmage with 1,145, averaging 5.0 yards every time he touched the football.
The Lions will likely turn the bulk of the workload to third-down back Arlen Harris, who has carried 20 times for 67 yards and has caught four passes for 35 yards so far this season. The Lions elevated former Eastern Michigan standout and running back Anthony Sherrell from the practice squad, but will likely scour the waiver wire to add additional talent to the depleted backfield.
RB Kevin Jones was stopped at the goal line on second-and-goal from the 1-yard line, and RB Arlen Harris, who had not carried the ball all afternoon, was stopped outside the 1 on third down.
With less than four minutes left in the game, Marinelli and offensive coordinator Mike Martz called a fourth-down pass play on which QB Jon Kitna was sacked for a 3-yard loss.
For all practical purposes, the game was over because the Lions would not get two more possessions against the tough Minnesota defense.
"Our thinking was, 'It's tough to get down there into that red zone, within that 5-yard line against a defense like that, so we're down there, let's go put it in and now we have a chance to force a punt,'" Marinelli said. "We were playing pretty good defense in the second half. Get a three-and-out and now we have a chance to work down and get a field goal, tie it up and go into overtime. I just felt at that point we could get it in, and that's why we went for it."
Damien Woody, the starting right guard, and Tex Tucker, the right tackle, already are on injured reserve, and coach Rod Marinelli said that left guard Ross Verba is not expected to play Sunday in the game at Green Bay.
Verba, OG Blaine Saipaia and OT Jeff Backus all were injured and missed varying amounts of playing time in the 30-20 loss Sunday to the Vikings.
Backus, who has a foot injury, is expected to play. In six years he has yet to miss a starting assignment and generally finishes the season with various breaks, sprains or other significant injuries.
Saipaia was scheduled for an MRI, however, to determine the severity of his shoulder and pectoral injuries before it is determined if he will be able to play at Green Bay.
The offensive line injuries are nothing new for the Lions. Only five times all season has Marinelli been able to start the same five players on consecutive weeks.
The lineup for the Packers game promises another new combination. Rookie OG Frank Davis and rookie OT Jonathan Scott both are expected to see action, along with veteran Barry Stokes and Rick DeMulling.