Julian Okwara seeking to form dominant edge-rushing tandem with brother Romeo

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
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There was understandable jubilation within the Okwara family when the Detroit Lions drafted Julian out of Notre Dame a year ago, offering him a chance to play on the same team with his older brother Romeo for the first time in their lives. 

But that first year didn't turn as they might have hoped. While Romeo had a breakout season, pacing the Lions with 10.0 sacks, Julian missed much of his rookie campaign because of injury, playing just 69 defensive snaps. 

Chris Spielman, left, special assistant to chairman and president and CEO and former Lions linebacker, stands with linebacker Alex Anzalone (34) and defensive end Julian Okwara (99) during practice this week.

As a free agent this offseason, Romeo re-signed with the Lions, inking a three-year, $37-million pact minutes after the signing period opened. At 25 , at the cusp of his physical prime and coming off a highly productive season, he likely could have commanded more on the open market, but the opportunity to continue playing alongside Julian was a considerable lure. 

Now, jointly under contract the next three seasons with the Lions, Julian, 23, and Romeo are looking to build a unique NFL legacy. 

"I’m definitely looking forward to the future and definitely changing this program around," Julian said this week. "I think that’s something we want to do and everyone’s coming here with the right mindset, and that’s something we definitely looking forward to this season, changing how everybody looks at Detroit."

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The team-oriented tandem understand strong individual performances can go a long way toward facilitating that turnaround.

Romeo will be looking to build upon last year's production, while Julian will be trying to catch up, with eyes on matching Romeo's sack production. 

"I don’t know if anybody’s had two brothers coming off the edge, getting after the quarterback," Julian said. "So I definitely see myself getting double-digit sacks, my brother the same thing. I think that’s something that hasn’t been done."

Detroit Lions defensive end Romeo Okwara celebrates after sacking Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill for a safety.

First and foremost, Julian must prove he can stay healthy. That's been his focus this offseason and he claims to be at 100% entering this year's offseason program. He also confirmed his injury issue's from last season were not related to the broken leg he suffered playing for Notre Dame in 2019. 

As for his role, that's to be determined. The Lions have already said Romeo will be playing as an outside linebacker, as opposed to a defensive end, in the team's new scheme. His primary responsibility will remain rushing the passer, but he will drop into coverage more than he did the past few seasons. 

The similarly lengthy, but leaner Julian is likely see a similar adjustment to his assignments. That's something he's comfortable with. 

"It don’t matter. I can do whatever. Hands down, standing up," he said. "I did it in college, too, so I think I can do it in the NFL too."

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jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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