Detroit Lions optimistic about Levi Onwuzurike (back) after consulting with specialists

Detroit Free Press

While one of the Detroit Lions’ highly drafted rookie defensive linemen has been an early star of training camp, the other has been nowhere to be seen.

Lions coach Dan Campbell said Wednesday second-round pick Levi Onwuzurike has missed practice time this summer because of a back injury he dealt with in college.

The Lions recently sent Onwuzurike to visit multiple back specialists, and Campbell said the organization is hopeful the defensive tackle’s injury will not be a long-term issue.

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“Look, you’re always going to have some type of concern, but I would say, man, he’s young, he’s hungry, he works,” Campbell said. “I think we’ve got good people around him to help him. I think that we know what we’re looking at now cause we’ve sent him to a couple of places and I think he’ll be just fine. I think, like, you can’t worry about it. I think he’ll be OK, and that’s what we wanted clarity on. We think this will be fine and we’re ready to put him back into practice next week and let him go.”

A first-team All-Pac-12 selection as a sophomore at Washington, Onwuzurike was considered one of the top two interior defensive linemen in April’s draft, when he unexpectedly fell to the Lions in the second round, No. 41 overall.

Onwuzurike is expected to play a rotational role on the Lions’ defensive line this fall, along with Michael Brockers, Nick Williams, Da’Shawn Hand, John Penisini and third-round pick Alim McNeill.

McNeill has been one of the early standouts of training camp, regularly taking first-team reps at nose tackle.

Campbell said Onwuzurike’s visits to “a couple of specialists” were precautionary in nature.

“And everything seems to be good and so 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,” Campbell said. “So you’ll see him next week is the plan.”

If Onwuzurike can stay healthy, there should be ample opportunity for him to contribute this fall.

The oft-injured Hand left practice Tuesday with what Campbell called a minor injury, Penisini has not practiced since last week and Williams is on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

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Campbell said the missed practice time will slow Onwuzurike’s development “a little bit,” but that there still is enough time for him to be ready for the Lions’ Sept. 12 season opener against the San Francisco 49ers.

“There’s still time,” Campbell said. “There’s still time to get in there and he’ll continue to grow as the season goes. But we want him to develop, we want him to come along. That’s the reason we drafted him, but also, I don’t want this to be like we’re in a hurry to do something that he’s not ready for, either. Like, we’ll take this as it comes cause he’s willing to put in the work. It’s nothing like that.

“I mean, he’s hungry. He’s mad at us that we sent him to somewhere else. He wants to practice, man. And you love that about him. But also, hey, let’s take it as it comes and when he’s ready, he’s ready. If he’s not, he’s not. That’s all right, too, right now.

The Lions also made a roster move Wednesday, signing running back Javon Leake and waiving injured running back Michael Warren.

The team has been shorthanded at running back with D’Andre Swift missing significant practice time with a groin injury and Jermar Jefferson leaving practice Monday with a sprained ankle.

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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