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Detroit Lions LB coach Kelvin Sheppard believes team’s full buy-in is ‘rare’

Doesn’t matter if they’re injured, Lions players are all-in on this team’s rebuild.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Lions edge defender Romeo Okwara would be well within his rights to take a couple weeks off from football to reflect on his situation. The Lions defender was expected to be one of the team’s biggest leaders on defense, hoping to build on his 10-sack season from last year. However, the first quarter of the team’s Week 4 game, Okwara tore his Achilles, ending his 2021 season prematurely.

But just because his season is over doesn’t mean he’s going to quit helping the team succeed this year. According to his position coach, Kelvin Sheppard, Okwara hasn’t stopped interacting with the team since his injury.

“On Thursday—on his freakin surgery day—he’s texting me. ‘I’m on my way back to Detroit. Man, I’m going to come see you,’” Sheppard told the media on Wednesday. “I’m like, ‘What? Go home and lay down.’”

Sheppard and Okwara go back. The two were teammates for three years, two with the Giants and one with the Lions. But these interactions are just about chatting with a friend, Okwara is legitimately trying to help the team using his own observations while watching at home.

“He texted me things from the game that you might see,how can we help still from home, from the training room. ‘Seeing if there’s anything I can do. I’m there for you and the guys.’ So that guy is all in still.”

Sheppard said that this sort of behavior is widespread in the locker room. And while that may seem like something that happens all the time in the football locker rooms, it isn’t. The Lions have something special going on.

“Hurt, injured, inactive, active, you wouldn’t know the difference,” Sheppard said. “Because guys are in meeting rooms, they’re paying attention, they’re bought in, they’re asking, ‘What can I do to help, coach? Alright, I know I’m not going to be active this game, but is there anything I can do on the sidelines?’ And you rarely see that. If you really want to peel off the layers and talk truth, you rarely see that, and it has to come within a culture being built.”

The buy-in for Year 1 is particularly telling, because this team has gone through hardships thus far. With an 0-5 start and two game-losing 50+ yard field goals in three weeks, being committed to going into work every day is not a given. But Sheppard believes this is a perfect opportunity for the team to evaluate which players can handle the hardships of any given season, and who simply cannot.

“If we jumped out to 5-0, it’s easy for everybody to run around, beating their chest saying how good of a staff, how good of a team and all this,” Sheppard said. “But you really find that stuff out in adversity, and I think that’s life and the game as well.”