Lions DB Tracy Walker is thrilled with new coaching staff, freedom to be himself
When former Detroit Lions running back Kerryon Johnson, now with the Philadelphia Eagles, made a comment on Twitter this week that he hadn't laughed in practice for years, there's little mystery to what he meant.
Whether Lions players liked his style or not, few had fun practicing and playing for former coach Matt Patricia. The weight of that burden being lifted was also apparent in the laughter of Detroit safety Tracy Walker, who virtually met with the local media for the first time this offseason on Thursday.
On the field, Walker hit a wall last year. The up-and-coming talent labored through a role change in his third season. He lost his starting job to begin the year, and even after regaining it, his production never recovered to pre-established standards.
But, from the sounds of it, Walker also hit a wall playing for the previous regime. Now he'll be looking to get his career back on track with a coaching staff who have a track record of squeezing the full potential out of defensive backs, in a scheme he feels is better tailored to his skill set.
Walker is particularly excited to work with defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, a 15-year NFL veteran who has milked serious production out of New Orleans Saints safeties during his five years coaching the franchise's defensive backs.
"Honestly, it's a blessing to be able to play under this coach, in this scheme," Walker said. "First off, I appreciate the knowledge that I've been learning and the tips these coaches have been giving me. Just to be quite frank, God willing, I feel like I'm going to have a good year, just off how the system runs and just the way that I'm being treated.
"I just get to be myself," Walker said. "Let's just say it like that. I get to walk around and be myself and I can't ask for much else. As long as I get to be myself and get to be the jolly person that I am then, like I said, my play on the field will speak for itself."
Within this new scheme, the Lions will look to get Walker back to patrolling the deeper parts of the field, where he has had his best success as a pro. And the transition to playing more split-safety looks in the back end of the defense — which typically divides safety responsibilities to half or a quarter of the field — should be even more conducive to generating turnovers, something the Lions have struggled to do in recent years, but has been integral to New Orleans' defensive success during Glenn's tenure with that franchise.
"It's great," Walker said. "It's definitely a system that I ran in college, so it's a lot of similarities for me and I'm comfortable. It allows me to not be in the box, down by the linebackers every play. I feel like, for me, that's great. It's a blessing for me to be back high and you'll never know what I'm in. I get to roam and I get to be me."
The other key to Walker's success this upcoming season is personal accountability. That's something he recognizes, regularly describing his offseason focus on ensuring he's being the best version of himself. That means not only making a deeper commitment in his own improvement, but in being a veteran leader to a relatively young group of defensive backs.
"I think it’s already begun," coach Dan Campbell said. "I think (defensive backs coach) Aubrey Pleasant’s done a hell of job with him. I think just the emphasis that he puts on everything that Tracy does. Every little movement that he makes, every drill where he’s out there, just not letting him slip.
"... It’s just a focus," Campbell said. "That’s all it is. It’s just him training the brain, man. I’ve got to train myself one more time to cut it loose here. Just let yourself go and really trust what you’re being taught. Listen, he’s already made vast improvement. He really has.
"Because he is, he’s a talented player and, look, he’s hungry. He wants to be good, you can tell.”
Walker is entering his fourth year with the Lions, the final season of his rookie contract. If he bounces back, returns to his 2019 form while putting his disappointing 2020 season quickly behind him, he has the potential to generate a significant market as a young, experienced safety with a desirable tool set.
Understandably, he's staying away from that conversation. He knows it's premature and talk of turning things around is cheap.
"I'm not too much, individually, worried about myself and my accolades because, like I said, if I can be a better leader to my teammates, then I can help be the best safety I can be," Walker said. "My individual accolades are going to speak for themselves.
"Of course, obviously, I want to have a great year, but I've got to be a better man," Walker said. "That's why I said let me be a better Tracy. I can definitely go out there and make plays. There's no question or doubt, whatsoever, but I feel like I have to mentally and emotionally be correct. That's just the bottom line. That's why I said me being the best me, (the rest) will take care of itself. I will make as many plays as possible if I'm the best Tracy."