With a promising showing in his season debut, Lions’ linebacker Julian Okwara made a case for a bigger role effective immediately.
After missing most of training camp, all three preseason games and Week 1 against the Philadelphia Eagles, Lions linebacker/defensive end Julian Okwara made his season debut in Week 2 against the Washington Commanders.
Over 33 snaps against Washington, Okwara had two tackles and one quarterback hit. Not earth-shattering numbers, but add five quarterback pressures (via Pro Football Focus, h/t to Ben Raven of MLive) and you reveal some bigger impact.
With defensive lineman John Cominsky (hand) out for multiple weeks, Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn pointed to Okwara as someone with an opportunity in front of him.
Okwara whiffed on a couple potential sacks of Carson Wentz last Sunday, but the ability to win off the edge he flashed last season (five sacks, 14 pressures–via Pro Football Reference) was evident.
In his press conference on Thursday, Glenn set the expectations for the younger Okwara.
Aaron Glenn sets expectations for Julian Okwara
Well, JO (Okwara) is a fastball for us, especially off the edge. So, we try to utilize him in those situations as much as we can. Obviously, last year he had one of his – if not his best year. We’re looking for him to actually have a better year this year because we know what he can do now. So, it’s just to us as coaches to make sure we continue to put him in a situation where he can be successful.
It’s good to have him back, he still, he’s still improving. He’s still coming off that injury. It usually takes a while when you come off a hamstring. So, really looking forward to see how he’s going to operate this week going into the year. So, but I think that guy’s going to have a good year.”
A significant barrier to Okwara reaching his potential has been health. He missed 10 games as a rookie in 2020, then four more last season. Counting his snaps from Week 2, he has played 464 defensive snaps across 20 games in his career. For a comparison, apt or otherwise, Aidan Hutchinson has played nearly 28 percent of that total (129 snaps) in his first two NFL games.