Brian Kelly: Julian-Romeo Okwara pairing 'a great match' for Lions

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

It's easy, given that they play the same position and played for the same college, to think of Romeo Okwara and Julian Okwara as clones.

But that couldn't be further from the truth said Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, who had the privilege of coaching both brothers. 

While the two share some overlap in their playing styles, particularly their willingness to utilize their length and strength to win off the edge, there's a clear contrast in personality. 

Romeo Okwara, who is wearing a black hoodie, celebrates after brother Julian Okwara, seated right, was selected by the Lions in the NFL Draft.

"They're very different," Kelly said during a Tuesday video conference with reporters. "Romeo is laid-back and very measured. Julian can be a little bit more emotional, at times. ...As big brother, little brother, one has more of the wisdom and rationale way of doing things, and the other one sometimes comes across a little bit, I'd say, hot-tempered at times."

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Even with that fiery temperament, Kelly said Julian showed significant growth as a leader during his four years at Notre Dame, earning the right to be a captain as a senior. That leadership and maturity showed up last season, after Julian suffered a broken leg, prematurely ending his college career. 

"He was certainly very disappointed, obviously," Kelly said. "The first thing you think about is how is this going to affect me, personally. But he put that behind him pretty quickly. He was back out at practice, helping his unit, very engaged with our guys in bowl prep. As a leader on our football team, I was really proud with the way he reengaged himself."

The Lions acquired Romeo off waivers in 2018 and he went on to lead the team in sacks that season, earning a two-year contract extension from the club. The team added Julian in the draft on Friday, snagging him in the third round with the No. 67 overall pick. 

Lions general manager Bob Quinn, in a radio interview with 97.1, expressed surprise the younger Okwara was available that late in the event. 

Talking to reporters after the draft, Julian confirmed speculation he was planning on living with Romeo once he moves to Detroit. Playing the role of little brother to a tee, he also insisted he had no intention of paying rent. 

"Oh yeah, 100 percent," Julian said. "It’s happening. I wasn’t joking. So I’m looking forward to living a rent-free year."

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The Lions see the setup as an advantage, having the young pass rusher living with a veteran experienced in the defensive scheme. And Kelly has every reason to believe the two will get along great.

"It's a very close family," Kelly said.  "It's not your typical rivalry in the sense of a sibling rivalry. They've always been very supportive. When Romeo comes around, Julian is very excited to see him. Romeo has never been that guy that's giving advice. He kind of stays back and let's Julian be who he is.

"They will be a great tandem, not only on the field, but off the field. It's just a great match."

On the field, the Lions are looking for Julian to help boost the team's pass rush, which has been wildly ineffective the past two seasons. At the combine, he weighed 252 pounds, about 15 less than Romeo, but Kelly sees plenty of room for growth in Julian's frame. 

"Just his natural growth, he's going to continue to get bigger," Kelly said. "What is that number? I don't know, but he's a guy that will still continue to put on weight, get stronger, get bigger in a really good strength program. You haven't seen a guy that's tapped out from a physicality standpoint."

With more weight and additional strength, it should only increase the effectiveness of Julian's go-to skill in his toolbox — power. 

"(Lions coach) Matt (Patricia) saw him as a true pass rusher, and what he loved about him, and what I think is his clear, differentiating trait is he has strong and physical hands," Kelly said. "He's a strong player. If you want somebody that can bull rush, he can bull rush. He's not just a guy that's going to rush off the end. So if a tackle is sitting really back and trying to play the speed rush, Julian can take that tackle and drive him back."

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers