Fresh off signing a three-year, $37 million deal with the Lions, Romeo Okwara must show he has what it takes to adjust.
Okwara must not only adjust to the brand new staff of coaches in Detroit, as well as a new GM, but he also must adjust to new Lions head coach Dan Campbell’s 3-4 defensive scheme (three down defensive linemen and four linebackers).
Okwara is a natural down 4-3 defensive end, who has mostly played with his hand in the dirt during his time in Detroit.
However, like his counterpart Trey Flowers, Okwara must now adjust to this new defensive alignment and philosophy, which has him lining up at outside linebacker.
I have watched Okwara extensively over the past two seasons, and frankly, I thought he was as good as gone.
With the new regime coming in, coupled with the premium value that NFL teams place on young pass-rushers, I thought for sure Detroit would end up losing Okwara. But, oddly enough, he decided to stay.
There is no question he can get to the quarterback. That has always been his thing.
Albeit his sack totals over the last three seasons look more like a roller-coaster than a stat line (7.5 sacks in 2018, 1.5 in 2019 and 10 in 2020), he is absolutely a legitimate threat to get to the passer. That is who he is.
The question I have is can he do it standing up as an OLB, because he does not have the same background, familiarity or success as Flowers does playing that position.
Flowers starred in that role for the Patriots, before signing as a free agent in Detroit.
Okwara spent his first couple seasons at Notre Dame playing OLB, and he logged 0.5 sacks in 2012 and 2013 -- his freshman and sophomore seasons. He moved to defensive end in time for his junior season, and logged a total of 12.0 sacks in his final two years at Notre Dame.
So, fans now are sitting around and thinking: What’s the difference between lining up as an OLB and as a player with his hand in the dirt?
From what I have learned, it is very different. Not every defensive end can make that transition.
In fact, few have in my 40 years experience of scouting. A defensive end gets a lot of his power and push from coming out of the down position when he engages with an offensive lineman.
I was surprised to see the new regime make this big commitment to Okwara, given his lack of background playing OLB, coupled with him being a holdover from the last regime.
But, here we are, and the question now is: What are the three keys to his success in the 2021 season?
1.) Learn the nuances of playing a new position, or at least a position he has not played before in the NFL.
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This is the big one. Okwara is going to have to become comfortable doing something he has not done, since he was in college. And, that also may include some pass-coverage responsibilities. How comfortable he actually becomes is another story.
2.) Find a way to become more consistent.
This was the big thing that stuck out to me over the past two seasons -- his inconsistency.
Half the time he looked like a world beater on film, and half the time he disappeared. He needs to be more consistently productive in 2021.
3.) Get his intensity back.
Last year was a strange year. I would have to guess it was the strangest year that any of us have ever lived through, due to the pandemic.
However, on top of that, it was a strange year on the timeline of the Detroit Lions.
Former head coach Matt Patricia did not even expect his team to win a game in September, based on what he said prior to the season starting. And, guess what? The Lions won only one game in September.
There was such a difference between the intensity, physicality and aggression between what I saw out of the 2019 Lions defense and the 2020 version. I noticed a drop in Okwara’s intensity, too.
Hopefully, despite the fat bank account, the new coaching staff can help Okwara regain his 2019 intensity.
I know it was probably easy for the new regime to fall in love with Okwara’s gaudy sack total over the past three seasons and to get out the pen and paper.
Lions fans just need to hope now that he can actually make the transition and still get to the QB as frequently as his paycheck suggests he should.
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