Romeo Okwara has played 20 total games since entering the NFL. He’s only started in four games and amassed just a single sack in his time with the New York Giants.
Anthony Zettel, the man he’ll be replacing on the Detroit Lions roster after a surprise transaction this week, has Okwara beat in just about every statistical category. He’s played in 29 games—starting in 16 of them—has double the tackles, and 5.5 more sacks.
And while head coach Matt Patricia may not want to call it a one-for-one swap, that’s exactly what shows up on the Lions’ transaction list. So why the unproven commodity over the known product, especially just a few days before the season opener?
On Saturday, Patricia provided a little clarity.
While he admitted you never know for sure whether a player will translate to a new team and a new system, Patricia noted that adjustment period should be shorter for Okwara.
“Something you try to do when you look at him on film, and before you bring in a guy like that, is (if) there are similar techniques that they’re using to what you do,” Patricia noted in his Saturday press conference. “A guy like Romeo, for instance, he plays with a very similar style that we teach. So the transition may be a little quicker in that situation.”
One of those things that Okwara brings is versatility, something Patricia has pushed for in every player on the roster.
“So, a guy that maybe could do a couple different things for us from a multiple-level position,” Patricia said of Okwara earlier in the week.
In New York, the Giants handed Okwara plenty of different scenarios, including pass-rushing opportunities, and coverage downs. And in terms of line assignments, Okwara is comfortable with anything.
“I’ve played in multiple form—I’ve done gap control, I’ve done shoot-the-gaps, so I’m just ready to do whatever they tell me to do,” Okwara said.
But to make sure Okwara makes a quick transition, Patricia admits it can take a lot of work, not just from the coaching staff but from Okwara himself.
“Practice time is so long, you try to get a little bit of extra work maybe after practice if you can, or in the meetings really taking time or extra time with that player to try and explain to them, and there is a little bit of a catch up factor,” Patricia said. “That guy has to come in and do the extra work on his own. Try to improve and get better because there is a little bit of a structure in place right now where we’re pushing forward every single day. We don’t really have on opportunity to go back and redo a day.”
For now, it certainly seems like Okwara is up for the task. The 23-year-old defensive end has his head down and is keeping the playbook close.
“I’m just ready to go to work,” Okwara told the media this week. “My main focus right now is just learning the playbook and that’s my one priority, so I can go out there and play fast on the field.”
Does that means the Lions will count on him as early as Monday night against the New York Jets? Okwara doesn’t know.
“I have no idea. When it comes to me, learn the playbook (and be ready) whenever that happens.”