It’s been a rough two years for Detroit Lions defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike. He battled through a back injury his entire rookie season. Then, when he put in the extra work the following offseason to get right, his entire sophomore campaign was lost when the back injury was tweaked again in training camp, forcing Onwuzurike to undergo season-ending surgery.
Now in his third year, though, Onwuzurike is back on the field after another tremendous effort to get healthy, and it’s drawn the admiration of his defensive coordinator, Aaron Glenn.
“To see someone be able to have the injury, especially a back injury, at that position, to come back and be able to just fight, strain, and grind, man, it feels good for him. It feels good for us to see that,” Glenn said on Monday.
Glenn described a bit of a scare during camp this past week. On the play, Onwuzurike was bent backwards quite a bit, testing the strain on his rehabbed back. But when Glenn saw the third-year defensive tackle get right back up and go to the huddle, both he and Onwuzurike gained some peace of mind.
“I felt really, really good about that,” Glenn said. “The fact of the matter that he can go through that, it tells me, it tells him more than anything, ‘I’m okay, I’m okay.’”
This offseason, Glenn put forth a challenge to Onwuzurike. If the defensive tackle truly wanted to continue his NFL career and battle through an injury that can be extremely tough for a player who is constantly absorbing hits, they weren’t going to half-ass it.
“I said, ‘Levi, listen, if you’re going to do this, then let’s go all in. Let’s go all in. Let’s go play,’ and he said, ‘I’m with you coach.’”
Through one week of training camp, Onwuzurike has passed all the physical tests. That said, he still has a long ways to go as a football player. He’s down on the depth chart, regularly repping with the third-team defense, and he’s still playing catch up when it comes to strength training.
“He didn’t get a chance to do all of the weight room work that you want him to do,” Glenn said. “So I will say that player is still in the developmental phase also because he didn’t really get a chance to do the things that’s expected of a defensive lineman coming into the NFL, so he still has a ways to go. But I like exactly where he’s at.”
That said, Glenn knows that if Onwuzurike can get right and start stacking days, he can help add some interior pass rush to a Lions defense that has been missing that element for years.