For all of the Detroit Lions’ defensive struggles a year ago, one of the primary positives was the continued development of Tracy Walker. But after playing 90% or more of the team’s defensive snaps in 10 of his 13 starts in 2019, the team appears poised to reduce the third-year safety’s playing time to start the 2020 season.
The Lions made a trade for veteran safety Duron Harmon in the offseason and throughout training camp it was second-year safety Will Harris, not Walker, who saw the majority of the first-team reps alongside Harmon.
Asked about a potential reduction in playing time on Friday, Walker took the diplomatic approach.
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“That’s not a question for me,” Walker said. “That’s a question that should be (for) upstairs, right now. Like I said, I was just told to go out there and compete and, you know, I’m going to go out there and do my job. I don’t look at like me being a two or not a starter, whatever the case may be. I’m just in practice, participating, and whatever I’m asked to do, I’m doing it. Like I said, I don’t know how to answer that question because that’s above my pay grade.
“I feel like my role right now is to be the best team player I can possibly be and, you know, just being a leader. I feel like I’m great wherever I’m put at, to make plays. I feel like you just got to put me in position and I’m going to go out there and make plays. So that’s the main thing with me is just to put me in position to make plays and I’m gonna go out there and do my job. I’m not too much worried about what I’m going to be doing and what my job is going into the season right now, I’m just going out there to be the best teammate. That’s just the bottom line — control what I can control and the rest will take care of itself.”
Harris, a third-round draft pick in 2019 and a physically gifted player in his own right, struggled when pressed into action during his rookie campaign. But the Lions clearly have confidence in the strides he’s made in his second offseason.
“It was a learning process, and as we got deeper and deeper into the season, I was able to see the game more quickly, see plays more quickly, and see things more clearly,” Harris explained last month. “Most importantly, see things before they happen. So, leading into this year, I took pretty much took all my experiences from last year and, you know, building on them. I know where I’m supposed to be. Going into this year, that helps me, to know where I’m supposed to be. You can see things coming more clearly. And I’m just building on that this year and trying to be the smartest football player I can be more than anything.”
Regardless of who starts at safety, the Lions are likely to utilize a three-man rotation. That’s something Lions coach Matt Patricia has experience with from his time in New England, where Harmon served as the third man to starters Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty. For the past three seasons, all three played more than 60% of the team’s defensive snaps.