Lions DT Levi Onwuzurike undergoes back surgery, out for season: ‘It’s a last resort’

Detroit Free Press

Second-year Detroit Lions defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike will miss the 2022 season after undergoing back surgery during last week’s bye.

Lions coach Dan Campbell said Onwuzurike’s decision to have surgery was “a last resort” due to disc problems that have persisted throughout his career.

A second-round pick out of Washington in 2021, Onwuzurike missed most of training camp his rookie year with a back injury that dated to his college days and has not played this season.

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He made 35 tackles in 16 games as a rookie, but has been out since aggravating his injury Aug. 1, in the Lions’ first padded practice of the summer.

Asked Monday how concerned he is that back problems could linger for the rest of Onwuzurike’s career, Campbell said, “Hopefully this certainly helps.” The Lions were aware of Onwuzurike’s condition coming out of college.

“I mean it’s a last resort,” he said. “Felt like that was — he felt like that’s where he needed to go with it and saw a number of doctors and so we’ll see where it goes.”

The Lions (1-4) were counting on Onwuzurike to be a key rotational piece on their defensive line this fall and have lacked interior pass rush in his absence.

The Lions rank 30th in the NFL in sack percentage and have not had a sack since the fourth quarter of their Week 3 loss to the Minnesota Vikings despite spending four high draft picks on defensive linemen the past two seasons.

Rookie first-round pick Aidan Hutchinson has three sacks this season, all in a Week 2 win over the Washington Commanders, and has not yet had the impact the Lions hoped when they made him the No. 2 pick of April’s draft.

Josh Paschal, a second-round pick in April, has not played this season after undergoing summer surgery to fix a sports hernia. Paschal returned to practice before the Lions’ Week 5 loss to the New England Patriots and could make his season debut as soon as this week.

Alim McNeill, a third-rounder last season, is one of the Lions’ top run defenders but has had minimal impact as a pass rusher so far in his career.

Campbell said the Lions are trending in the right direction elsewhere from an injury standpoint.

Running back D’Andre Swift could return to action for Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys after missing the past two games with a sprained shoulder. Amon-Ra St. Brown is expected back near full strength after playing through a high ankle sprain against the Patriots. Cornerback Jerry Jacobs is due to return this week from the torn ACL he suffered in December.

And Campbell said defensive end Romeo Okwara, receiver Jameson Williams and fullback Jason Cabinda remain on track play this season, though none is expected to return to practice this week.

Cabinda is the closest of those three to returning, Campbell said.

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