Allen Park — Aidan Hutchinson. Charles Harris. Alim McNeill. Levi Onwuzurike. Josh Paschal. So on and so forth.
There have been several additions to the Detroit Lions’ defensive line in the last two years, and there’s plenty of excitement about who will emerge as difference-makers in a season where everything is being cranked up to 11.
But did you forget about Romeo Okwara? Don’t feel bad — he gets it. In fact, Okwara called an impromptu press conference following training camp Wednesday for that very reason.
“I don’t want you guys to forget about me,” Okwara, who tore his Achilles in Week 4 of last season, said to a handful of reporters before heading to the microphone.
Okwara, 27, was placed on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list in late July. Unlike cornerback Jeff Okudah, who suffered the same injury three weeks before but already was working out with the team in OTAs and minicamp, he hasn’t been taking part in team drills, no matter the lack of intensity.
But his rehab is going “pretty good,” he said, and despite the timetable for return being “a little too hard to predict,” he said he’s “very optimistic” he’ll return this season.
“I can’t really talk too much about it, but I’m running, moving a little more than I was before,” Okwara said. “It’s definitely one of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with. It’s my first major injury playing the sport. So it’s definitely been a mental challenge and physically, of course.”
Okwara signed with Detroit in 2018 after a pair of years with the New York Giants. He was coming to his own before the injury. He had a career-high 10 sacks, 44 tackles, and 11 tackles for loss in 2020 — a contract year — and re-signed last offseason on a three-year, $37 million ticket to be one of the defense’s only stabilizing forces.
As Okwara continues to see the defensive line evolve without him, he’s getting antsy. The “mental reps” he’s getting while observing training camp just don’t hit the same.
“I miss being out here with the guys. It’s definitely really tough being on the sidelines watching. It definitely makes you want to get out there,” he said. “There’s nothing like really being out on the practice field and practicing and going full speed and all of that. But mentally, it’s kinda the best thing you can do right now. Rewatching game tape, going back on my old film and trying to find ways to improve and just kinda taking all those mental reps.”
Okwara acknowledged there’s usually a bit of uncertainty regarding how a player will return from an Achilles injury. He’s hoping modern medicine will help him return to the player he was.
“Guys go through this surgery all the time, especially in recent years,” he said. “Back in the day, it was a career-ender.”
Even still, there is a certain level of implied uncertainty that comes with his recovery.
What Okwara has going for him is the fact that finishing top 10 in sacks in his last healthy season means he’ll likely be cutting to the front of the depth chart when he does fully recover; he has a proven form to return to.
So while in this league, a player under circumstances similar to Okwara might have to fear the progress of a bunch of new players at his position, that’s just not where his head is at.
“I’m really, really looking forward to being a part of that,” Okwara said of the improved pass rush and new defensive scheme. “The guys have been humming all summer, and it’s been really fun to watch. It makes me even more excited to get back out there and join them.”