2020 was “a pretty hectic year”—both positively and negatively—for Detroit Lions safety Tracy Walker. Off the field, his cousin Ahmaud Arbery was murdered, which put him into the national spotlight at times, and he welcomed his first child into the world.
On the field, he opened camp with the starters, then inexplicably was benched after coaches apparently lost confidence in him. He began the season coming off the bench and it wasn’t until Week 3 that former Lions’ coaches realized the error of their ways. Even then, once he was back with the starters, he was used in a manner that didn’t play to his strengths.
The best way to understand this is to look at his snap counts from the past three seasons, separate them by each position he played on the field, and look at his production:
Walker’s rookie season saw him find the most success playing primarily deep safety, but even when his positional range was spread out close to equal in year two, he still played above-average football.
Last season, Walker was forced into the box on over half his snaps and he never looked comfortable. He often trailed his man in coverage, had 11 missed tackles, 16 fewer overall tackles than the season prior despite playing in two more games, and failed to record an interception for the first time in his career.
Walker hasn’t been shy about recognizing that he was not at his best in 2020 and he entered the offseason trying to be a better person, both on and off the field.
“I’ve been just focused on trying to be a better result of myself,” Walker said at OTAs this week. “I feel like there’s a lot of improvement that I’ve made over these last couple years, especially last year. I’ve grown and I’ve matured in a lot of different ways. I’ve just been preparing myself to attack this year.”
And now that a new coaching staff has arrived in Detroit, Walker is getting back to playing deeper in his sets, and he is already feeling more comfortable on the field.
“Honestly, it’s a blessing to be able to play under this coach (defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn), in this scheme,” Walker said. “First off, I appreciate the knowledge that I’ve been learning and the tips these coaches have been giving me. Just to be quite frank, God willing, I feel like I’m going to have a good year, just off how the system runs and just the way that I’m being treated. Just everything, every aspect of it. I believe, and I’m just so happy right now, with everything going on.”
The Lions split zone scheme is familiar to Walker. It’s the system he operated out of in college, but there are still nuances that he will have to learn in order to maximize his game. This work ethic has been recognized by coaches and they have taken notice of Walker’s willingness to learn from Glenn and position coach Aubrey Pleasant.
“He’s already made vast improvement,” coach Dan Campbell said at OTAs. “He really has. I thought yesterday he really did some good things. There were a number of guys who did really good things, on both sides of the ball. But that’s just, man, trusting himself, trusting a process, trust his coach, and, man, he’ll get there. Because he is, he’s a talented player and, look, he’s hungry he wants to be good, you can tell.”
Glenn had previously noted that Walker was asking good questions while in the film room, but at the OTA open to the media this week, Walker was seen seeking out advice from coaches on the field as well. After a 7-on-7 session, Walker immediately sought out Pleasant for advice, looking to learn.
With a coaching staff that shows confidence in him, as well as a willingness to help him develop on the field and putting him in a position that plays to his strengths, Walker is enjoying himself right now.
“Honestly, I just get to be myself,” Walker said about the coaching atmosphere. “Let’s just say it like that. I get to walk around and be myself and I can’t ask for much else. As long as I get to be myself and get to be the jolly person that I am then, like I said, my play on the field will speak for itself.”