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Brian Kelly: Julian Okwara will get bigger, faster, stronger with Detroit Lions

Okwara’s head coach thinks he’ll fit perfectly with Detroit.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 13 Notre Dame Spring Game Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Detroit Lions selection at 67th overall in the 2020 NFL draft may be familiar to fans. Julian Okwara, the defensive end out of Notre Dame, will be joining his brother Romeo in Detroit in a deep Lions pass rushing room.

Romeo, just like Julian, played under head coach Brian Kelly for the Fighting Irish. While their NFL origin stories are remarkably similar, their personalities could not be any different.

“Romeo was laid back and very measured. Julian can be little bit more emotional at times,” Kelly told reporters in a press conference after the draft. “They will be a great tandem, not only on the field but off the field, and it’ll be a great match.”

The older Romeo has been a positive impact upon Julian in his development, but he has not been overbearing for his younger brother.

“Romeo always stays back and allows Julian to be who he is. I think it’s really helped him a lot… it served him well as he’s moved on in his career,” Kelly said on the brothers’ relationships.

While the pair are opposite off the field, they could not be any more similar on it. Both measure in at 6-foot-4 and around 250 pounds. Both are strong rushers who prefer to bulldoze over blocker instead of using their hands to free themselves. Both of the pair have struggled against the run in their careers thus far.

Julian enters the league with a little more raw talent than Romeo did. He is a little more agile, athletic and twitchy than his brother, while also bringing the normal style of bull-rushing Lions head coach Matt Patricia loves in his defensive ends.

“What separated Julian from the other guys is that not only is he twitchy, [he’s] a true pass rusher,” Kelly said, “He is a physical player. If you need somebody to bull rush, he can bull rush. He’s not just a guy that’s gonna rush off the end.”

Kelly added that “if a tackle is sitting really back and trying to play the speed rush, Julian can take that tackle and drive him back... That was a differentiator for [Patricia].”

The Notre Dame coach also believes that the defensive tackle is nowhere near reached his peak physically.

“I think Julian will continue to grow. He’ll be in a great strength program in Detroit. He’s been continuing to get bigger,” the Irish’s head coach said, “You haven’t seen a guy who is tapped out in physicality. He’s gonna get bigger, he’s gonna get faster, he’s gonna get stronger.”

That is good news for the Lions and for Patricia. The team loves having some of the biggest guys in the league across the defensive line. Between players like Damon Harrison Sr., Danny Shelton and Devon Kennard, Detroit loves some strength upfront.

Julian’s issues with defending the run may be fixed with size as well. Adding more weight to his frame will help him hold is ground on the edge and force runners back inside. This is incredibly important on a team that values run defense more than many.

Landing a player like Okwara in the third round feels like a steal for Detroit. He received late-first round attention for much of his final year in college until a broken leg suffered against Duke ended his season prematurely.

Suffering a devastating injury in a player’s senior season—one that would inevitably tank the player’s draft stock—can take a toll on a young players mental state. Okwara quickly put personal concerns behind him after the injury, though, and still helped the team in every way he could as the season went on.

“He put that behind him fairly quickly. He was back out at practice helping his unit,” Kelly said, “Very engaged with our guys in bowl prep.”

The defensive end’s leadership will help him fit in playing for the Lions. Patricia has made it clear he values these traits over nearly everything else—sometimes even talent—making Okwara a no brainer fit with the Detroit Lions.

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