Julian Okwara showed some promise this past season, but outside linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard is setting the bar higher for 2022.
Julian Okwara barely played as a rookie for the Detroit Lions in 2020, and a broken leg cost him time during his final season at Notre Dame. During the 2021 season, he registered five sacks while playing at least 37 percent of the snaps in each of the last nine games he played. He missed three games with an ankle injury.
The Lions are easily tabbed to take an edge rusher with the second overall pick in April’s draft. Okwara’s brother Romeo, who suffered a season-ending Achilles tear in Week 4 and had 10 sacks in 2020, will be back. But it’s also possible Trey Flowers is cut this offseason, and the Lions’ pass rush needs all it can get as it really lagged this season.
High expectations being set for Julian Okwara
From down at the Senior Bowl, Justin Rogers of The Detroit News passed along Lions outside linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard’s comments setting up expecations for Okwara.
I don’t care where you were drafted, I don’t care where you come from, you have to earn things,” Sheppard said. “His deal was, he took a step as being a professional. That’s why I say it’s bigger than the game sometimes with these guys. It’s the mental capacity and all this stuff.”
J.O., the strides he took this year, if he can continue to build on that, it starts with him in the offseason,” Sheppard continued. “Where’s he training? What are you doing? Are you doing the right things with your body and all the things I’ve asked you to do? Are you working on that and not doing these YouTube drills you see? But that player, I’m telling you, his career can go wherever he wants it to go.”
Okwara has not even played 450 defensive snaps in the NFL. His third season is lined up to be an important one in his career development, and Sheppard expects to see him do everything to set up a substantial step in 2022.