Lions notes: Levi Onwuzurike impressing with offseason commitment
Allen Park — The Detroit Lions are scheduled to host their first round of OTAs later this month, but it will be like Levi Onwuzurike never left.
The defensive lineman, entering his second year after being drafted in the second round in 2021, has been hanging around the team's facility much of the offseason. That commitment to improve after a disappointing rookie campaign hasn't been lost on coach Dan Campbell.
"He looks good," Campbell said. "I know it’s early and we’re only in early April, but you can tell he’s been working. That says something. That says something to you, without saying anything."
The Lions were thrilled to land Onwuzurike coming out of the University of Washington. General manager Brad Holmes has shared that he had to be talked out of trading back into the first round to secure the player he coveted and was thankful Onwuzurike was still on the board when the Lions were on the clock in the early stages of the draft's second day.
But an offseason back injury led to a slow start and Onwuzurike never really hit his stride as a rookie, despite logging nearly 400 defensive snaps. He was particularly disappointing affecting the quarterback, mustering just three pressures on 184 pass-rush snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.
His dedication to his craft since the end of last season has spurred renewed optimism he'll have have a more significant impact in 2022.
"As we all know, you don't make any greater jumps than you do from (year) one to two," Campbell said "That is the greatest jump that most guys make. ...So we're expecting him to take a leap forward, you know? I know he's of the right mindset.
"...He's put his money where his mouth is. I know that from a training standpoint, he's got enough pride and he knows what he needs to do. Everybody learns at a different rate in this league, man."
Harris' role unclear
Will Harris opened last season as one of Detroit's starting safeties, but when injuries and a COVID outbreak depleted the depth chart late in the campaign, he made unexpected starts at outside and slot cornerback.
After showing the added versatility, plus lingering uncertainty at both roster spots, Campbell isn't ready to commit to a projected role for the fourth-year defensive back.
"I think Will, part of his strength is his versatility. That's one of his greatest attributes, which we came to find out last year," Campbell said. "I think he's a jack of all trades. We're still talking right now, you just go out day one, do you put him at corner or do you put him at safety? I'll be honest, we haven't just locked that down right now. We're still kinda talking about it. That's not a bad thing."
Harris ended up playing a team-high 1,012 defensive snaps last season. He's been incredibly durable since being drafted in the third round out of Boston College in 2019, appearing in all 49 regular season games, including 28 starts.
The draft could offer some clarity on where Harris will spend most of his time next season. The Lions re-signed one safety, Tracy Walker, but let Dean Marlowe — and his 700 snaps — walk in free agency. If the team were to draft a safety with one of its first three draft picks in the first two rounds, it could push Harris toward the full-time nickel job.
Grin and bear it
Campbell is rarely a man of few words, but the coach didn't have much to say about his team's appointment to appear on HBO's upcoming season of "Hard Knocks."
"Yeah, we're doing it," he said. "I've got a smile on our face. We're doing it."
This won't be Campbell's first experience with the show. He was a tight ends coach with the Miami Dolphins when that team was featured in 2012.
"I'd rather not be eligible to be on it," team president Rod Wood said at the league meetings earlier this month. "But since we are, we're going to embrace it. I think it will be a good way to build some momentum going into the season, and hopefully get our fans a behind-the-scenes look that is usually very difficult to provide them.
"I know other teams that have gone through it, there's always a reluctance, but it seems like they've come out of it enjoying the process and feeling better for it," Wood said.