Detroit Lions DL Levi Onwuzurike’s back improving ‘at a snail’s pace’

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Lions are still holding out hope that second-year defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike will be ready for their season-opener Sept. 11 against the Philadelphia Eagles, but Lions coach Dan Campbell acknowledge that seems more unlikely by the day.

Campbell said Thursday that Onwuzurike has not had any setbacks from the back injury that has kept him out since the first week of camp, but his progress healing has been slow.

“He’s trending the right way, but it’s at a snail’s pace, is the best way to say it,” Campbell said.

Onwuzurike has not practiced since aggravating a back and hip injury in the Lions’ first padded practice of the summer Aug. 1.

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Last year, Onwuzurike missed most of training camp with a back injury but played in 16 of a possible 17 regular season games. He made 35 tackles and had one sack, but did not have the kind of impact the Lions’ hoped from their second-round pick.

Onwuzurike was expected to be a more prominent part of the Lions’ defensive tackle rotation this fall after the Lions switched to a more aggressive front similar to the one he played in, in college.

Alim McNeill and Michael Brockers project as the Lions’ starting interior linemen, and John Cominsky, Isaiah Buggs and Demetrius Taylor are among those competing for backup spots.

“He’s doing everything we’re asking him to do, it is getting better,” Campbell said of Onwuzurike. “I would say that, if you’re asking me right now, you’re twisting my arm, I’m saying he’s not available for Philly. That’s me. But we’ll see.”

Campbell indicated cornerback Jerry Jacobs also will not be ready for the season opener, though the Lions hope he can play sometime early in the season.

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Jacobs remains on the physically unable to perform list as he rehabs from the torn ACL he suffered in December, but the Lions did not place him on the reserve/PUP at Tuesday’s roster cut.

Campbell said reserve/PUP remains an option for Jacobs if the Lions decide they need that roster spot at next week’s cut to 53 players.

“A lot of it is not so much, ‘Hey, we’re going to have him Week 1, Week 2, Week 3,’” Campbell said. “It’s more, man, can we begin to get him some practice reps, just slowly implement him in what we’re doing in practice. Whether it’s scout team cards, or running our defense, just a couple of plays then he’s off to the side. Continue his rehab, strengthening, and then maybe the next day he’s able to get a little bit more. And then, hypothetically, he’s ready Week 5, let’s say. Well, shoot he’s gotten practice for four weeks and he’s ready. Whereas if you just did PUP, he’s not up for four weeks and then first thing you do, you pull him off, he’s not going to be ready to play, he hadn’t gotten any practice reps.”

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

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