Detroit Lions’ options to replace Tracy Walker: ‘We’re going to look at everything’

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Lions are considering several options to replace injured safety Tracy Walker, who will miss the rest of the season with a torn left Achilles tendon.

Juju Hughes played the final three quarters of Sunday’s 28-24 loss to the Minnesota Vikings at safety in Walker’s absence, but Lions coach Dan Campbell said Monday he is “going to look at everything and see what gives us the best chance to win personnel wise, scheme wise, everything.”

“Losing Tracy hurts,” Campbell said. “That’s a significant loss because multiple reasons. I mean, Tracy’s been, since I walked in the door last year he’s been all in and he’s one of our team captains this year. Nobody’s put in more work than he has, since the spring. And he is one of the smartest players we have on defense, that’s huge, and he’s productive. And so you’re losing a big cog in the piece that helps you over there.”

Walker suffered his noncontact injury with just over 6 minutes to play in Sunday’s first quarter, when he planted off his foot while preparing to make a tackle on Vikings running back Dalvin Cook.

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The Lions’ leading tackler entering the game, Walker grabbed at his lower left leg as he sat on the field surrounded by trainers. He limped slowly to the sideline under his own power and was quickly carted to the locker room after a brief examination in the bench area.

“I appreciate all the support from my fans and friends,” Walker wrote in a Twitter post Monday morning. “It is true that I tore my Achilles and I’m done for the season but I’ll bounce back and be better then ever for the following years to come. TTIME will be back.”

Walker had emerged as a leader and key player in the Lions’ young secondary after signing a three-year, $25 million deal to stay with the team in free agency this offseason.

He had 11 tackles, a sack and deflected a pass before he was ejected in the third quarter of the Lions’ season-opening loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, and made another five stops in last week’s win over the Washington Commanders.

With Walker out of the game Sunday, the Lions had several communication errors on the back end of their defense, including one that led to Minnesota’s game-winning touchdown.

“There again, he’s one of the smartest players we have in the back end, so that hurts,” Campbell said. “He’s a productive player and he’s really the quarterback of our secondary, so it hurts a little bit.”

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Along with Hughes, who they claimed off waivers from the Los Angeles Rams in January, the Lions have two young safeties in backup roles in third-round pick Kerby Joseph and converted cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu.

Joseph has played exclusively on special teams through three games, while Melifonwu has been inactive for every game this season after missing time in training camp with a strained hamstring.

Campbell said Hughes was “solid” as a fill-in against the Vikings.

“He can be better,” Campbell said. “But I thought for, man, not getting those reps and stepping in and doing some of the things he did, it was — that was good and that’s kind of what we know about Juju. He’ll go in there and he’ll be able to function and give you what he’s got.”

Along with their in-house options, the Lions could consider bringing in one of several veteran safeties available in free agency or on the practice squads of other teams. Brady Breeze, who the Lions waived in training camp, also remains unsigned.

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Campbell said the Lions do not have immediate plans to move Will Harris back to safety. Harris played safety most of his first three seasons before moving to cornerback late last season. He has played as a backup cornerback and sub-package defender this fall.

“We’ll talk about that,” Campbell said. “I don’t know if I see that move right now. We kind of like Will right where he’s at. If anything, he could get some more corner work. I don’t want to totally say he’s not getting the safety, but we think there’s a real good spot where he’s at right now that maximizes him and us, what he’s able to do for us.”

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

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