Lions rookie DTs Alim McNeill, Levi Onwuzurike form quick bond

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
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The NFL relaxed its uniform restrictions this offseason, allowing running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, linebackers and defensive backs to be able to wear any number between 1-49. 

But the biggest men on the field, the offensive and defensive linemen, they're out of luck. That's unfortunate for Alim McNeill, Detroit's 320-pound rookie defensive tackle who wore 29 in college. With the Lions, McNeill will don No. 54, still an unusual choice for an interior lineman, but the closest he was able to come to his preference for a low number. 

Lions defensive lineman Levi Onwuzurike (75) has quickly formed a bond with draftmate and fellow lineman Alim McNeill.

Why does it matter? It probably doesn't, but as Deion Sanders once said, "If you look good, you feel good. If you feel good, you play good. If you play good, they pay good."

More: Lions short on players, long on competition at rookie minicamp

"It makes me feel like a skill player again," McNeil said about wearing a lower number. "I feel lighter on my feet when I've got a low number."

Being light on his feet is what led the Lions to draft McNeill in the first place. The nose tackle is surprisingly quick, something that goes back to his high school days, when he played running back and was an outfielder for the high school baseball team. 

With the Lions, McNeill is being counted on to help transform a position group that has been largely ineffective the past two seasons, particularly when it comes to pressuring the quarterback. As part of the team's makeover up front, he'll be joined by fellow draft pick Levi Onwuzurike and veteran Michael Brockers, who came over in an offseason trade. 

McNeill and Onwuzurike shared the field for the first time this past weekend, taking part in the Lions' rookie minicamp, where the two seemed to form quick chemistry. 

"Yeah, definitely a dominant guy. He's a clown, too," McNeill said about Onwuzurike, as his new teammate amusingly popped his head into the virtual interview. "Yeah, definitely a dominant guy, gets off the ball, good finesse. I think when we play beside each other, we're going to be able to complement each other a lot, be able to make a lot of plays and wreak havoc in backfields."

Onwuzurike echoed those comments in his call with reporters. 

"I already love the dude as a person, real good guy," he said about McNeill. "Football wise, I think he's just gonna be wrecking shop. We were just hitting the bags today, this dude was almost tearing the bag off the little post. I think we're going to do some damage. We're going to push guys back. We're going to mess up offensive schemes. It'll be a great duo." 

One difference between the two, beyond their obviously different builds, is Onwuzurike doesn't care what jersey number he wears. It's No. 75, by the way. 

"I don't care," he said. "It's whatever. I wore 95 in college, so that kind of stuck. I can wear anything. My childhood number was No. 9, so if I could get No. 9, that would be the one I want. Obviously I can't get that, so I'll get any number."

Beyond the NFL restrictions still in place, No. 9 might be off the table for a while in Detroit. Maybe permanently following quarterback Matthew Stafford's offseason departure. 

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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