Heading into his third year with the Detroit Lions, Julian Okwara had found a home as a hybrid pass-rushing outside linebacker in the team’s new defensive scheme. Throughout the offseason, Okwara has taken snaps standing up on the edge, with his hand in the dirt, and would even drop into coverage against running backs and tight ends.
But as we have seen too frequently during his first two years in the league, Okwara ran into the injury bug (leg) and has missed a significant portion of training camp, including both of the Lions’ preseason games. It’s unclear if Okwara’s multiple leg injuries are related to the broken leg that cost him his senior year in college, but what we do know, is that he has only played in 19 games over the last two seasons.
Since injuring himself on August 3rd, Okwara has not been able to practice. Over the last three weeks, he has been working with the Lions' rehabilitation staff and has reportedly had no setbacks, leading to hope that he will be able to return for the regular season—ideally, Week 1, when the team takes on the Philadelphia Eagles.
“We’re hoping for Philly that he’ll be back,” coach Dan Campbell said at Friday’s press conference. “He’s probably got the best shot out of all of them (the other injured players) to be ready for Philly.”
While Okwara has missed time, others have stepped into his role, most notably Austin Bryant, who has recently seen his duties expand after crushing the last few weeks of camp. But it’s not only practice where Bryant has shown up, he has also been a major factor in games, both against the run and as a pass rusher. Last game against the Colts, Bryant earned a 78.0 overall grade from PFF, including a 68.9 run defense grade and a 72.1 pass rush grade.
In an ideal scenario, getting Okwara back for Week 1 and pairing him with Bryant would be advantageous for the Lions, but the longer it takes Okwara takes to re-acclimate, the more of a grip Bryant gets on the role.