Allen Park — The Detroit Lions had just wrapped the team’s longest, most physically demand practice of training camp. As most of the players slowly walked back to the locker room with slumped shoulders, exhausted from the evening’s grueling pace, safety Tracy Walker was one of a handful who lingered on the field to put in some extra work.
Alongside his counterpart in the defensive backfield DeShon Elliott, Walker worked with defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant through a number of drills designed to simulate catching an interception in less-than-ideal circumstances, whether around the body or a receiver or while on the ground.
Interceptions are rare, even for the best safeties. You could play 1,000 snaps, come away with four and be considered one of the better ballhawks in the league. But for such a relatively small thing, it’s a big hole in Walker’s resume. And he understands without more turnover generation — after three picks and one forced fumble across four seasons — he’ll never be looked at as one of the NFL’s best at his position.
“That’s the only thing I’m lacking,” Walker said. “You can’t tell me one thing other safeties are doing that I can’t do. More plays, more turnovers, that’s the only thing I’m not generating that other safeties are doing.”
The drills are an effort to remedy that deficiency and he’s opening himself up to any suggestions, whether from defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, position coaches Pleasant and Brian Duker or former teammate and continuing mentor Glover Quin.
“I’m just trying to get used to touching the ball every day,” Walker said. “No matter whether I catch them all or not, I’m always trying to get some extra work in, so I can finish the play. Naturally, you build confidence through repetition. Consistency is the key, so for me, that’s the main thing I’ve been trying to do is be consistent every day, trying to catch the ball like a receiver.”
The Lions have put a lot of faith in Walker, both on and off the field, this offseason. After reaching free agency in March, they rewarded him with a new, three-year, $25 million contract. And in the locker room, his leadership role has expanded to the point where he was selected as a team captain for the first time in his career.
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“It’s not just leading by example, but being able to coach other guys and help them develop,” Walker said. “That’s what leaders do, they don’t just make themselves better, they make everyone around them better.”
Walker has been noticeably helping bring rookie Kerby Joseph along. It’s easy to draw comparisons between the two, from the size to the skill set strengths to their draft positions, so there’s plenty of wisdom for Walker to impart, based on his own experiences.
“Tracy’s been a great mentor to Kerby,” Duker said. “You see those two actually sit next to each other in the meeting room, and you’ll consistently see — Kerb will have a look on his face, and I’ll see Trace just grab him, so it’s been awesome. He’s a really good mentor for him and it’s certainly helped. I’m sure Kerby would have a whole bunch of good things to say about it, but from my perspective, I’m certainly glad those two have developed a good relationship and appreciate Tracy’s mentorship there.”
Everything would appear to be coming together for Walker, entering his fifth season. Now, he just needs the turnovers to come.
“I’m just trying to get better individually and the rest will take care of itself,” he said.