Allen Park — Lions rookie defensive end Pat O’Connor is hard to miss on the practice field, with his long hair and burly beard spilling out of his helmet.
As the offseason activities ramp up and training camp nears, O’Connor is out to prove he’ll be hard to let go.
The Eastern Michigan product was selected in the seventh round of April’s draft with the Lions’ final pick (250th overall), celebratory news he found out at home in Chicago with a bunch of family and friends.
“I was excited,” O’Connor said. “I had the pleasure of working out with the Lions twice. I did half my pro day at Michigan, so I was able to work with (defensive line) Coach Kris (Kocurek) and came back for another visit, worked with them again and it was a beautiful fit.
“I felt like the defense is just perfect to run for my playing style and having Coach Kris coach me is something I wanted to do so I was like, ‘Wow.’ It was like a dream come true.”
O’Connor (6-foot-4, 270 pounds) was a two-time All-Mid-American Conference selection and wreaked havoc last season with the Eagles. He recorded 14.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks and five forced fumbles, one of only nine players in the nation to have at least five.
“Back in college I would just run to the ball as hard as I could, just try and get off as hard you could,” O’Connor said. “That’s something that our defensive line lives off of, and Coach Kris when he was meeting with us preached that kind of playing style.”
As O’Connor has been getting acquainted to the system — and the accidental beard tug or two during practice — he has benefited from veteran linemen taking him under their wing and helping him get a grasp on the playing style and speed of the NFL.
And it also doesn’t hurt to compete with and pick the brains of All-Pros Haloti Ngata and Ziggy Ansah.
“You get to watch the best of the best and then you want to try and mimic everything they do along with the rest of the defensive line,” O’Connor said. “You just want to watch them and try to build your craft off theirs and try to improve your game as much as you possibly can.”
Despite being an underdog to make the 53-man roster, O’Connor doesn’t have to look far for inspiration. Fellow defensive end Kerry Hyder went undrafted and spent his first two seasons on practice squads before finally making the roster last year and leading the Lions with eight sacks in a breakout season.
“He motivates us to keep on working with his ‘It doesn’t matter how he got there, it matters what you do when you get there’ kind of style,” O’Connor said of Hyder. “Being able to influence us at both a talking level and on a playing level, he’s a good motivator for us.”
O’Connor admits it took time for the reality he’s in the NFL to sink in, but he’s adamant to soak in every second and leave a lasting impression.
“It was surreal at the beginning but now I’m just adapting to it,” O’Connor said. “It feels good to be a Lion.”