Allen Park — Tracy Walker was better than the Detroit Lions expected him to be as a rookie last season, and he might end up being better than anyone expects him to be in 2019.
A relative unknown when he was selected by the Lions in the third round of last year's draft, the Lions had the luxury of easing Walker into playing time behind the starting tandem of Glover Quin and Quandre Diggs. That narrow focus proved to be a fertile environment for the rangy safety's development, and regardless of the task he was assigned, he seemed to thrive.
"He showed us the skill set that he had, and it was probably a little more expansive than maybe what we originally thought when we looked at him on film coming out of college," Lions coach Matt Patricia acknowledged earlier this offseason.
Walker's success, as both a run defender and in coverage, has created a path for him to take over a starting job this season, replacing the recently retired Quin. And if training camp is any indication, Walker is more than up for the challenge.
Through the first several practices, he's been a playmaking machine, routinely getting his hands on balls and coming down with a couple interceptions. Walker's ability to anticipate throws, something he first displayed early last season against San Francisco, popped up again Wednesday when he undercut a Matthew Stafford pass intended for rookie tight end T.J. Hockenson and returned it down the sideline for what would have been a pick-six.
"Honestly, I was just playing man coverage," Walker explained. "Basically he ran his route, and I basically read his route and just made a great play on the ball."
Walker enthusiastically attacked the offseason, looking for ways to get better for his second year. Where he's noticed the biggest difference is the mental side of the game.
"I feel like everybody is physically gifted when you get to the NFL, but it’s the mental aspect where you have to slow it down," Walker said. "Y’all asked me previously before if the game is starting to slow down. Well, with me breaking down film, understanding the mistakes, learning, making the proper corrections, then bringing it out here and translating it from the film, that’s where I got better. That’s where I’ve seen a lot of improvement."
The Lions could use some of the ball skills Walker has shown in camp on Sundays. The Lions were near the bottom of the league in interceptions last year.