Allen Park — After adding him to the active roster last Saturday, the Detroit Lions opted to delay Romeo Okwara’s season debut, but it’s looking more and more like that will come Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.
“Oh yeah, absolutely,” Okwara said when asked if he would be ready to go this week.
How much he’ll be able to do, 14 months removed from tearing his Achilles, remains to be seen. The Lions, under the current coaching staff and front office, have been highly conservative with the initial workload of players coming back from serious injury, pointing to Okwara seeing 10 or fewer snaps if he’s active against the Vikings.
Following his grueling rehab, Okwara is ready for whatever the team is willing to let him do.
“Yeah, it’s been pretty rough,” Okwara said. “It’s been frustrating at some points. A lot of ups and downs, but you know what, I’m kinda excited to be at the point I’m at right now. At some points, I didn’t think I’d be at this point, so just really excited to be a part of it and just getting back out there with the guys.”
Two seasons ago, Okwara led the Lions with 10 sacks. And while the overall pass rush has been better this year than it has the past few seasons, the team could still use a little more juice off the edge. That’s something defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn is hoping Okwara can provide down the stretch.
“Length, power, a guy that can get after the quarterback,” Glenn said. “We’re looking forward to utilizing him and seeing if we can get that out of him as far as the sack production. Excited to have that player back, he’s excited to be on the field. I know he’s champing at the bit to get a chance to play, so I’m really looking forward to seeing how he operates.”
Still not quite right
D’Andre Swift matched a season high in touches in last Sunday’s victory over the Jaguars. It was a significant accomplishment for a player who has been limited by injuries since the opening week of the season.
After the game, coach Dan Campbell said the dual-threat back was moving at a different pace in practice that week, letting the coaching staff know they could lean a little heavier on Swift in the game. But he was more muted when asked what it meant to him to seemingly clear that hurdle.
“It was time, I guess,” Swift said. “That’s really all I can say. It felt to be good to be back out there. It’s getting a little bit better. I’m getting closer to being back to myself.”
But the reality remains Swift is unlikely to get back to full strength this year. He’s continued to try playing through a high-ankle sprain, and after three straight weeks of full practice, and finally coming off the injury report last week, he was back to being limited to start this week due to soreness.
“I keep pushing through it,” Swift said.
Struggling with durability throughout his career, Swift has fought all season to stay on the field and prove his toughness. Even not at full strength, he remains one of Detroit’s best offensive weapons. In Sunday’s victory, he amassed 111 yards from scrimmage and scored a rushing touchdown. For the season, he has 354 rushing yards, averaging 5.5 yards per carry, while adding another 235 on 28 receptions.
Still hunting for big plays
In the win over Jacksonville, Detroit scored on each of the team’s first eight possessions, averaging 9.5 plays per drive. It’s difficult to complain about that kind of efficiency, but somehow, offensive coordinator Ben Johnson found a way.
“It’s like after every drive, we’ve got one of our young coaches and he’ll say, ‘Hey, that was a 15-play drive or 12-play drive,’ and I’m like, ‘You know what’s better than that? A three-play drive, a two-play drive that ends up in the end zone,” Johnson said.
In recent weeks, Johnson has discussed Detroit’s search for more explosive plays. Early in the year, the team was among the league leaders, but they’ve struggled to sustain that success, as the injury bug bit hard in the middle of the season, sidelining or limiting some of the team’s top playmakers.
The Lions have an internal definition of a 16-yard pass or 12-yard run as a big play. The team managed to score 40 points against Jacksonville with just four plays meeting that criteria.
“Every week, we’re on a quest to find more explosives, and when you play a game like that and it’s about efficiency as opposed to explosives, you’ve got to be good on third down,” Johnson said. “That was probably our best all year that we’ve been on third down. So, we were able to stay on track and it worked out for us, but all of a sudden, if we’re not quite as good on third down, then playing that type of game isn’t nearly as good for us.”
Criticized decision explained
Yes, the Lions were planning to use rookie receiver Jameson Williams as a gunner on punt coverage in his debut on Sunday. Of course, that never came to fruition because the team never punted against the Jaguars, but that didn’t stop national commentators and former players from criticizing Detroit’s plan with a player coming off a lengthy rehab for a torn ACL.
Special-teams coordinator Dave Fipp, who earlier in the offseason raved about Williams’ special-teams ability from his time at the University of Alabama, acknowledged he was thrilled to be given the opportunity to incorporate the rookie into Detroit’s coverage units, but only after confirming with Williams it was something he truly felt comfortable doing.
“I would say once we got the go-ahead, I went to him also and said, ‘Hey, are you sure you want to do this?’ And he’s like, ‘Oh yeah, I want to play.’ If he had told me no, I wasn’t going to play them there. I think every individual case is different.
“… I think it just comes down to the individual and I would say he’s different, man,” Fipp said. “This guy loves playing football and if that’s his way to contribute in a game, he’s willing to do it.”
A day after receiver Quintez Cephus returned to practice, the Lions started the three-week acclimation period for running back Craig Reynolds on Thursday.
Entering the year as the third option in the team’s backfield rotation, as well as a key special-teams contributor, Reynolds has been out of action since early November with a rib injury. In eight appearances in 2022, he’s contributed 218 yards from scrimmage.