It’s happening a little bit later than expected, but Levi Onwuzurike is finally ready to make his preseason debut.
Onwuzurike, the Detroit Lions’ second-round pick, saw his most extensive action of training camp Tuesday after missing two weeks with a back injury.
He said he expects to play in Saturday’s second preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, though he has not been told yet how many snaps he will get.
“I’m back to normal,” Onwuzurike said. “I was always good, it was just more the Lions trying to take care of me, make sure I go out there the right way.”
The Lions sent Onwuzurike to multiple back specialists in recent weeks to evaluate an injury Onwuzurike said has been a minor issue since college.
“It was more like a nagging thing,” he said. “Everybody has their nagging thing. Mine was a little nag in the back, nag in the hip.”
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Lions coach Dan Campbell said doctors gave Onwuzurike the all-clear to return and started him on a strengthening and rehabilitation program.
Onwuzurike returned to practice on a limited basis this week and took some first-team reps in the Lions’ controlled scrimmage Tuesday, when he had one would-be sack and made his presence felt several other times in the backfield.
“I think this was for sure pent-up energy, just wanting to play football again,” Onwuzurike said. “I opted out (of the 2020 season), so not playing for so long, I think all that energy’s out there.”
A first-team All-Pac-12 selection as a sophomore at Washington in 2019, Onwuzurike was considered one of the top two interior defensive linemen in April’s draft, when he unexpectedly fell to the Lions with the 41st overall pick.
He said he does not think his back injury contributed to his draft day slide.
Onwuzurike is expected to play a prominent role on the Lions’ defensive line this fall, though the team has been shorthanded at the position throughout camp.
Veteran Michael Brockers has taken limited reps in an effort to monitor his workload for the regular season, Nick Williams is on the reserve/COVID-19 list, Da’Shawn Hand has not practiced since injuring his lower leg Aug. 10 and backup nose tackle John Penisini remains out with an undisclosed injury.
Lions defensive line coach Todd Wash said last week Onwuzurike stayed up to speed on the mental part of the defense while he was out, but had some technique work to sharpen up upon his return.
After a few days on the field, Onwuzurike said he is close to being ready for the start of the regular season.
“I think this is all I need right here,” he said. “This, a couple more practices throughout the week, we’ll be good to go.”
As for his back, Onwuzurike said he has no long-term concerns about his injury.
“It’s no fear,” he said. “It’s more like, ‘All right, they’re trying to take care of me.’ It’s like, I got a little injury, I can make it better so I play better. Obviously, I was annoyed that I couldn’t come out here and play but I think they made the right decision and what we did helped.”
The Lions signed outside linebacker Rashod Berry to fill the roster spot left vacant by the release of long snapper Don Muhlbach. Berry played tight end at Ohio State and appeared in three games as a defensive lineman for the New England Patriots last season.