Lions' Dan Campbell trying not to worry about Levi Onwuzurike's lingering back issue
Allen Park — When the Detroit Lions released their first unofficial depth chart this week, many fans were surprised to see second-round rookie Levi Onwuzurike buried deep behind several veterans.
But that surprise shouldn't exist considering Onwuzurike has barely practiced since the start of training camp. On Wednesday, two days ahead of the team's first preseason game, Lions coach Dan Campbell explained what's been keeping the defensive lineman sidelined.
"He had a couple of things with him when he was at Washington that we wanted to make sure he's good with," Campbell said. "He's kind of had a tight back and some things, so we wanted to get some clarity on where that was at. We've sent him around to a couple of specialists just making sure and everything seems to be good. We just chose to let's really think about rehab, strengthening, things of that nature this week and then let's get him fired up next week. You'll see him next week. That is the plan."
Back injuries have a way of elevating concern, given how many professional athletes have seen their careers slowed, and on occasion completely derailed, by the issues. But Campbell is maintaining a positive attitude with Onwuzurike's long-term health.
"I mean, look, you're always going to have some type of concern," Campbell said. "He's young, he's hungry, he works and I think we've got good people around him to help him. I think that we know what we're looking at now because we've sent him to a couple places and I think he'll be just fine. I can't worry about it and I think he'll be OK. That's what we wanted clarity on, that we think this will be fine. We're ready to put him back into practice next week and let him grow."
Obviously, training camp is a critical acclimation period for a first-year player, so Onwuzurike has fallen behind missing so many practice snaps. But position coach Todd Wash is taking solace in the rookie's off-field approach.
"Mental-wise he's not far, but he's not behind at all," Wash said. "He's a sharp young man and we knew that when we drafted him. I was fortunate that I could go out to his pro day and be able to talk to him stuff that day, so his football intelligence is really good. Where he's lacking stuff is just the reps on the field. He's a big, tall individual, a little bit long. Pad level is gonna be an issue for him and we got to continue to work that, but he's got to get healthy first."
Lions add a running back
Needing depth at running back due to mounting injuries, the Lions signed Javon Leake ahead of Wednesday's practice.
Undrafted out of Maryland a year ago, he had brief practice squad stints with the New York Giants and Washington Football Team as a rookie.
Listed at 6-foot, 215 pounds, Leake averaged an impressive 7.9 yards per carry during his three seasons at Maryland, scoring 17 touchdowns on just 145 carries. As a junior, he also served as the team's primary kickoff returner, averaging 26.8 yards on 30 attempts.
To make room on the roster, the Lions waived running back Michael Warren II with an injury designation.
More injury updates
Campbell provided an optimistic prognosis on tight end T.J. Hockenson and defensive tackle D'Shawn Hand, who both exited practice with injuries on Tuesday.
Hockenson got banged up going to the ground hard while attempting to make a catch then getting landed on by cornerback Jeff Okudah. Hand, meanwhile, left after injuring his ankle/foot during a one-on-one pass-rush rep.
"Both of those guys, we feel like those are minor and those were precautionary," Campbell said. "Up to this point, you want all your guys to practice, but like Hockenson, he's had a real good camp. He's been healthy and he's been good. We feel like he's going to be fine. But yet, you know, we want to make sure they're taken care of, too."
In addition to Onwuzurike, Hockenson and Hand, the Lions were down several other players during Wednesday's practice. Wide receivers Quintez Cephus, Damion Ratley and Chad Hansen, offensive tackle Tyrell Crosby, defensive tackle John Penisini, cornerbacks Quinton Dunbar and Corn Elder and running back D'Andre Swift were all sidelined.
Rookie linebacker Derrick Barnes, who has been battling a hamstring injury since June, said he's been told he will be playing in Friday's preseason opener after fully participating in practice to start this week.