Allen Park — With the most extensive workload he’s seen during training camp, Detroit Lions rookie defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike attacked the day like a starving dog who had been tossed a porterhouse.
It started to feel like every other snap during Tuesday’s practice, Onwuzurike was in the backfield disrupting the play, fulfilling the promises he made the night he was drafted by the Lions.
“I think it’s just for sure pent-up energy, wanting to play football again,” Onwuzurike said after the practice. “I opted out (last season at the University of Washington), so not playing for so long, I think all that energy is out there, and it’s going to stay there.”
At one point, his aggression almost got him in trouble, when he gave a small shove to quarterback David Blough, who was wearing a standard, no-contact red jersey for practice.
“I kind of didn’t pull up,” Onwuzurike said. “I got to get better about that. …I’m sure they will (say something) when we watch film.”
Onwuzurike’s extra energy and aggression stem from being held back the past couple of weeks. He has been limited by a back injury, one that coach Dan Campbell said carried over from college. The team recently had sent him to see a couple of specialists, and Campbell expressed cautious optimism about those evaluations.
“I mean, look, you’re always going to have some type of concern,” Campbell said last week. “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.”
For what it’s worth, Onwuzurike also didn’t seem overly concerned.
“I believe anything can be fixed, personally,” he said. “From everything I’ve been through, I just know that if you rehab and take care of your body, you’ll be good at the end of the day.”
At this rate, Onwuzurike should make his preseason debut Saturday against the Steelers. More importantly, he’s on track to be ready to go for next month’s season opener against San Francisco.
“This, couple more practices throughout the week and I think I’ll be good to go,” he said.
Jalen Reeves-Maybin thought he had a typical cold the days before he returned for training camp, but it turned out he was positive for the COVID-19 virus. That sidelined him the first 10 days of practice, hardly an ideal situation for a guy trying to regain a spot in the defensive rotation.
“It definitely wasn’t the best,” he said. “I just tried to stay up to date possible through Zooms, watching the film every day and talking to guys, still. Just tried to stay in it that way.”
Overall, Reeves-Maybin’s symptoms weren’t bad, with the most notable being some lingering fatigue. That got put to the test when he returned to the field and had to complete the 40 up-downs required of all defensive players by coordinator Aaron Glenn.
“I kind of had 10 days to think about ’em, so I saw everybody doing them, I tried to come up with a little technique to survive on it,” he said.
The Lions re-signed Reeves-Maybin this offseason, committing to give him an extended look on defense after he saw his playing time with the unit evaporate a year ago. Always undersized for the previous scheme, which emphasized bulk at the position, he’s clearly a better fit for Glenn’s system.
But even if Reeves-Maybin isn’t able to crack the defensive rotation, he remains a critical cog in Detroit’s special teams. Over the past two seasons, only Miles Killebrew had more tackles with the coverage units.
Killebrew has moved on. The Lions will see him this weekend, when they travel to Pittsburgh to play the Steelers in a preseason game. Reeves-Maybin, meanwhile, looks prepared to pick up the slack. He had two special-teams tackles in the preseason opener against Buffalo, including a quick stop after a 66-yard punt by Pro Bowler Jack Fox.
“I texted (Killebrew) a little bit this week, told him to stay away from me out there,” Reeves-Maybin said with a laugh. “I know he’s a really good player. It’s the NFL, man. People come and people go, but it was definitely great playing with all those guys the last couple years, being able to have a pretty good group. Just looking forward to new guys we’ve got now, guys we got back, guys like Jason Cabinda. It will be my second year playing with him and we’ll keep it going.”