Bob Wojnowski, John Niyo and Justin Rogers discuss the Detroit Lions as training camp continues, with the New York Giants in town for three practices and the second preseason game. The Detroit News, The Detroit News
Allen Park — It’s easy to view Tracy Walker as the forgotten member of the Detroit Lions’ 2018 draft class.
The team’s top two choices, offensive lineman Frank Ragnow and running back Kerryon Johnson, have dominated the headlines this offseason with their performance and clear path to playing time. Defensive tackle Da’Shawn Hand, a former top recruit who played for college football powerhouse Alabama, fills a position of need. Offensive tackle Tyrell Crosby is notable because of the perceived value he brought when he slid to the fifth round. Even Nick Bawden carried more immediate intrigue before suffering a season-ending knee injury because of the novelty of the fullback position.
Meanwhile, Walker came to the Lions as a relative unknown in the third round, having attended Louisiana-Lafayette, and playing a position, safety, where there wasn’t an immediate need.
But after a quiet start to his first offseason, Walker is starting to make more and more obvious plays. Whether it was the pair of physical tackles in the preseason opener against the Oakland Raiders, a deep pass breakup on a throw to Golden Tate, or a forced fumble during joint practices with the New York Giants, Walker is starting to assert himself.
“We’ve been through training camp with him, put him in a couple different spots,” Lions head coach Matt Patricia said. “As we push all those rookies, you get to the point where you try to find that ceiling of how much they can actually handle. And I think we try to figure that out and then pull back a little bit and just try to improve on some of the core things that we’re asking him to do, which he has now improved through training camp.
"The good thing was, there were a couple shots in the game the other day where I thought his physicality showed up in some of the things we saw in film,” Patricia said. “That’s a good tie-in for us right there.”
"I’m glad to be on this team." said Walker, a rookie defensive back. David Guralnick, The Detroit News
Walker has the build teams covet at free safety. He’s 6-foot-1, 206 pounds with arms that make it seem like he could tie his shoes without bending over. He has a long stride and can close on receivers and ball carriers in the open field quickly, where he can use his length to disrupt plays.
Walker also has been an ideal student, leaning heavily on veteran Glover Quin as he gets acclimated to being a professional. The two came off the field together after practice this week with Quin animatedly explaining how Walker should have defended a play earlier that day.
“The thing I like about him is he’s eager to learn,” Quin said. “He wants to learn, ask questions. He’s very much into learning how to be good, how to be a pro and I think that’s a good mindset to have as a young guy.
“People that are eager to learn, that don’t mind asking questions, aren’t ashamed to ask questions, those are the ones who get it, get better and turn into good football players.”
Walker likely will serve as Quin’s backup this season, and given the veteran's impressive consecutive start streak, the rookie shouldn’t expect his number to be called as a fill-in any time soon. But don’t be surprised if Walker works his way into some playing time in some sub-packages. This week, the Lions experimented with a four-safety, dime look with the rookie.
He’ll also be expected to play a big role on special teams, something he didn’t do a lot of in college.
Walker should continue to see a heavy workload throughout the preseason. He'll get a shot this Friday against the Giants.
Lions vs. Giants
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Where: Ford Field, Detroit
TV/radio: Fox 2/WJR 760
Records: Lions 0-1, Giants 0-1