Why having ‘a fifth-grade mentality’ has served Detroit Lions DL Levi Onwuzurike well

Detroit Free Press

He was inactive in Week 1, and has been a bit player since. But rookie defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike insists he is not frustrated with his role on the Detroit Lions defense.

“You just got to have a fifth-grade mentality,” Onwuzurike said Thursday. “You got to come in wanting to learn and that’s what it’s about. You learn, you get better, you get out there.”

A second-round pick out of Washington, Onwuzurike missed a large chunk of training camp with a back injury but has slowly seen his snap count increase and is coming off the best game of his young career.

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In a season-high 20 snaps against the Minnesota Vikings last week, he made four tackles and had two quarterback pressures with good pass rushes.

“I thought Levi took a big step up, he was better this week,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “And he needed to be because last week wasn’t very good.”

Onwuzurike remains both very much a work in progress and a big part of the Lions’ future.

He is playing behind and learning from veterans Michael Brockers and Nick Williams, and joked that having fellow rookie Alim McNeill in the defensive line room has helped in non-football ways.

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“It helps me learn more, No. 1, but also it spreads the load of spending money on the older guys,” Onwuzurike said. “Whenever we got to get food or something, it’s like, ‘All right, you got Friday’s donuts or something, I’ll get Saturday’s Coney Island,’ or whatever it is.”

The Lions are banking on Onwuzurike and McNeill being a big part of their defensive line rotation for the next three months.

McNeill, a third-round pick out of North Carolina State, starts at nose tackle and is one of the Lions’ best run defenders. Onwuzurike said he’s “fine” with his limited but evolving role and is catching up physically to where he needs to be on defense.

“You got to have the whole knowledge of the defense and then you’ll get out there,” Onwuzurike said. “I’m learning behind some great dudes. As I get better and better, just put it out there.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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