Former second-round pick hits another milestone in comeback bid for Lions

Levi Onwuzurike

Detroit Lions defensive end Levi Onwuzurike (91) plays against the New York Giants during an preseason NFL football game in Detroit, Friday, Aug. 11, 2023. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)AP


ALLEN PARK -- As training camp closed for the Detroit Lions, there was Levi Onwuzurike, walking off the field as he had after practice through the past month-plus.

It’s been an up-and-down ride for the 2021 second-round pick. Onwuzurike endured an injury-hampered rookie campaign as he worked through lingering back issues. And then he missed all last season in an attempt to kick the issue, while each update out of Allen Park over that year did little to induce optimism.

But that changed with through the previous month, with him earning praise for his resiliency, and then continuing to do more and stack days of on-field work.

“It feels good. I mean, for sure, what you would call a milestone, without a doubt,” Onwuzurike told MLive after Wednesday’s practice. “Obviously, there is more to do, more plays to make and whatnot. But, I mean, it feels good to make it to this point. Stress my body and feel how I feel (right now).

“Yeah, it’s coming back for sure. It ain’t there all the way yet. But it’s coming back every day. Every day, I feel a piece just coming back, coming back and coming back.”

Related: Lions’ Aaron Glenn takes coaching hat off to marvel at Levi Onwuzurike’s resiliency

Related: Levi Onwuzurike continues to stack days, do more for Lions in comeback attempt

But the 25-year-old completed training camp on the field, even receiving some first-team reps in this week’s physical intrasquad scrimmage. And Onwuzurike is likely to see more work in the preseason finale against the Carolina Panthers on his quest to carve a role on the fully-stocked defensive line.

“Oh, yeah. It feels good, for sure. I mean, especially being with Alim. That’s my dog. We got drafted here together, so it just feels like all the pieces are in place,” he said.

“Oh, it’s nice. I mean, it’s real nice. We got some dudes in there, as you can tell. All across our D-line. It’s something to really look at and be thankful you’re in it and then be thankful you get to compete in it.”

Onwuzurike logged 31 defensive snaps and another four on special teams in last week’s exhibition loss against the Jacksonville Jaguars. And this came after the former second-rounder logged 22 reps in the preseason-opening win over the New York Giants. He’s notched three tackles and created two pressures in those two games, ranking as the team’s top-graded interior defender by Pro Football Focus.

While it’s impressive in its own right that he’s made it this far without a setback. It’s even more promising to see Onwuzurike’s growth, not to mention those snaps next to McNeill in the middle of the defensive line, as the team’s new brass envisioned through their first draft around these parts. And while nothing is set in stone, the Lions should consider anything Onwuzurike gives them in 2023 as a bonus.

McNeill highlights the interior defenders, with third-round rookie Brodric Martin and Isaiah Buggs up there, too. Benito Jones, Christian Covington, Chris Smith and Cory Durden are still in the mix. It’s also important to remember the inside-outside versatility on this roster, with John Cominsky, Josh Paschal and Aidan Hutchinson regularly bouncing inside on different looks.

And now that Onwuzurike has a month of real football under his belt for the first time in a year-plus. The 25-year-old realizes that the time for growth has arrived, with the Lions stacking pieces and looking like a divisional favorite.

“My ability to grow is all based on me and how hard I work,” Onwuzurike told MLive as camp ended. “It’s all about understanding that I’m healthy now, and now that I’m healthy, let’s grow. Let’s be a better football player.”


If you purchase a product or register for an account through one of the links on our site, we may receive compensation. By browsing this site, we may share your information with our social media partners in accordance with our Privacy Policy.