The moment it happened, Detroit Lions safety Tracy Walker knew it. Despite the 27-year-old’s positive outlook on life, when he suffered an injury in the first quarter against the Vikings in Week 3, he had a pretty good idea of what had happened.
“As soon as I did it, I kinda immediately knew,” Walker told a group of reporters on Wednesday. “I looked back. Look on the play, I looked back and then I thought somebody shot me in the back, literally.”
Walker was familiar with that feeling—not because he had experienced it before, but because a few of his teammates had. It was a torn Achilles and his season was over.
In the past year alone, Walker has witnessed two of his teammates fall to the same injury. Cornerback Jeff Okudah and defensive end Romeo Okwara lost their 2021 seasons early in the year due to a torn Achilles. Already, Walker has leaned on Okudah—who has since returned and played well—for guidance in recovery. The two even shared the same surgeon.
“Jeff has definitely been an open ear for me,” Walker said. “Definitely just for advice.”
But Walker is the kind of person who doesn’t need a pep talk. His sunny disposition and grateful attitude already has him looking at the positive side of this unfortunate situation. Days before his Achilles injury, his wife gave birth to their second son, and now he can be a bigger influence on his life in these early days.
“I’m not going to sit here and let this beat down on me,” Walker said. “I’m not. I’m sitting here. I’m positive. I have a lot of things to be happy about. A lot of things to be grateful about. At the end of the day, this is just a minor setback for a major comeback. And that’s how I look at it.”
With that positive attitude, Walker is setting a high bar for his recovery. His hope is to be back by 2023 Organized Team Activities (OTAs)—which typically occur in late May. That would give him an eight-month recovery window.
“First step is trying to get ready for OTAs,” Walker said. “If I can do a little something, OTAs. From that point on, but like I said, for OTAs, I got to get out of this boot. I take it one step at a time, one day at a time. I don’t ever want to get too ahead if that makes sense.”
In the meantime, Walker has been trying to help out with the Lions where he can. Without him captaining the defense, the secondary has fallen apart. Detroit is currently allowing more points per game than anyone, and the coaching staff is still trying to figure out exactly who they want starting on the backend, where Walker once controlled the defense.
“It’s definitely a huge change for the entire team,” Walker said. “Me being the leader that I am, being the captain that I am. That voice is gone. But a lot of the younger guys have to step up, like Jeff, like Amani (Oruwariye), you know, DeShon (Elliott). Guys like that, they got to step up. I’m not here and they got to keep going. We still got 12 games left. We got to come with it and have it on our mind to get it right.”
One player who has already stepped into a starting role and shown serious promise is third-round rookie safety Kerby Joseph. Walker has been mentoring the 21-year-old defender, and has a message for him.
“I have told him countless weeks in a row, ‘This is your time. At the end of the day, it sucks that I’m in this position, but, hey, it’s what I’ve been coaching you up and preparing you for. This is the worst-case scenario that we always talk about. But it happens. So now you got to go out there and do your job. Do it the best you can and help this team win’.”
*Special thanks to the local Lions beat for providing Pride of Detroit with transcripts of player interviews while we are out of town.