After suffering a torn Achilles in Week 4 of the 2021 season, Detroit Lions’ defensive end Romeo Okwara went through a lot of firsts. It was his first major football injury. It was the first time he underwent surgery. It was the first time he was forced to watch his team from home, with his foot elevated.
“I never really faced a challenge like this in sports,” Okwara told reporters on Wednesday. “So I think mentally just getting over that hurdle, coming back from an injury like this, it teaches you a lot about yourself.”
The biggest challenge, as it is for most players going through a serious injury, was mental, not physical. But with cornerback Jeff Okudah going through essentially the same rehab, that camaraderie helped him work through the tough days.
“We kind of leaned on each other throughout the whole process,” Okudah recalled. “He checked on me every single day almost. Just being there together for that process and kinda seeing where he’s at as we go through that same surgery together definitely helped a lot.”
Okwara also sought out Rams running back Cam Akers, who miraculously returned to play less than six months after suffering an Achilles tear of his own.
“He said every day is a daily grind,” Okwara said. “Every day, you got to do the little things. That helps mentally, just knowing you’re doing something every single day, whether it’s just toe wiggling. Just little movements. Just staying with the process and trusting it.”
While Okudah has returned to the practice field, Okwara has not. But the Lions' defensive end said he has started to run again.
“I can’t really talk too much about it, but I’m running, moving a little more than I was before,” Okwara said. “So just kinda focusing on that and doing it every day.”
Both the Lions and Okwara have declined to put a timeline on his recovery, but the pass rusher believes he will return before the season is through.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Okwara said. “Yeah, I’m very optimistic. Really looking forward to that.”
He wouldn’t say whether participating in training camp is still in the mix.
“I don’t know. TBD.”
In the meantime, Okwara has been out at every training camp practice, going through mental reps and providing tips here and there for his younger brother Julian.
“He’s definitely gotten better at his craft in terms of hands, pass rush moves,” Romeo said. “Mentally, he’s been trying to develop his coverage skills even more. So it’s been great to watch.”
If Okwara can return this season, it would be a huge boost to a pass rush that is already expecting a jump in production from last year’s lackluster performance. With the addition of Aidan Hutchinson, the return of Charles Harris, and the development of young players like Julian and Austin Bryant, Romeo is excited to see what the room can do in 2022—and is eager to join them.
“I’m really, really looking forward to being a part of that,” he said. “The guys have been humming all summer, and it’s been really fun to watch. It makes me even more excited to get back out there and join them.”