From the minute Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell said the words “back specialist” when referring to his second-round pick Levi Onwuzurike, I could collectively hear the fanbase tense up in concern. Back injuries can be career-killers in sports, and for a rookie to be seeing a specialist before even throwing on the pads just seems like the kind of luck this franchise would have.
But as Onwuzurike returned to practice this week—and made a huge impression in Tuesday’s fully-padded scrimmage—he basically said the injury and specialist visits were much ado about nothing.
“I’m back to normal. I mean, I was always good, it was just more the Lions trying to take care of me. Make sure I got better right away,” Onwuzurike said.
Back in college at Washington, Onwuzurike had been dealing with some lingering back and hip discomfort. But, again, Onwuzurike downplayed the injury.
“Everybody has their nagging pain. Mine was a little nag in the back and the hips.”
The decision to see a specialist wasn’t his own. In his opinion, he wasn’t dealing with enough discomfort to keep him out of practice. But Campbell wanted to be sure that his 23-year-old pass rushing defensive tackle wasn’t going to kick off his career with a chronic problem.
“I think that we know what we’re looking at now because we’ve sent him a couple of places. I think he’ll be just fine,” Campbell said.
Missing time in training camp, especially as a rookie, is never good. There’s a good amount of time needed to catch up just get in football shape and get in hitting mode. But it appears Onwuzurike has hit the ground running and doesn’t feel the need for much of an acclimation period at all.
“Just one day, really,” Onwuzurike said after Tuesday’s practice. “Today. I’m good to go.”