The Detroit Lions announced on Saturday that they have placed second-year defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike on injured reserve. He will miss the first four games of the season.
Onwuzurike was limited most of his rookie season while dealing with a back injury that was reportedly incredibly painful. He worked diligently with the Lions' strength and conditioning staff, and the medical team, to put a plan in place to mitigate his pain while they worked to strengthen his back.
In the spring, Onwuzurike was headed in the right direction and drew praise from coach Dan Campbell.
“Levi, he looks good,” Campbell said. “He looks good. I know it’s early and we’re only in early April, but you can tell he’s been working. That says something.”
Unfortunately, Onwuzurike re-injured his back early in training camp and needed to be shut down for a bit while he rehabbed. Things looked positive in early August and the Lions didn’t believe this injury would linger.
“We just gotta get it calmed down,” Campbell said. “The kid’s in a good place and he’s getting back from it. He’s put in a lot of good work, so we’ll get him calmed down, get him right, get him realigned, and I’ll think he’ll be fine.”
Two weeks later, the tone began to change. While Onwuzurike continued to improve, progress was minimal and Campbell admitted expectations for him to be ready for the season were looking bleak.
“It’s hard to say (when he will return) right now,” Campbell said. “I would say there’s (been) no setbacks, he’s trending the right way, but it’s at a snail’s pace, is the best way to say it. He’s doing everything we’re asking him to do, it is getting better, but—if you’re asking me right now and twisting my arm, I’m saying he’s not available for (Week 1 vs.) Philly. But we will see.”
This week, Onwuzurike sat out every practice and was ruled out, as was expected. But after a month of rehabbing and trying to get his back right, the Lions likely felt he needed more time, and shutting him down for at least the next four weeks was the best decision for him.
Because he was placed on injured reserve ahead of Week 1, he will only be required to miss the next four games, and would be eligible to return in Week 5, but it’s impossible to say if he will be ready to return at that time.
After losing Onwuzurike, the Lions' interior defensive line is left with five players—Michael Brockers, Alim McNeill, Isaiah Buggs, rookie Demetrius Taylor, and recently claimed Benito Jones—which is still plenty of bodies to run their scheme without issue.