One of last year's rookies -- who was all but forgotten -- could become a significant factor and force in 2021 for the Detroit Lions.
Julian Okwara, a 2020 third-round draft pick, never was able to get on track during his rookie campaign, and then suffered a right leg injury against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 6. He subsequently missed a good chunk of the season on injured reserve.
If the Lions hope to build a successful team, a big part of that is going to hinge on their ability to get to the quarterback.
In 2020, Detroit ranked 26th in the league in sacks per game, with a measly 1.5 per game average.
The Lions are going to have to get better production than that this upcoming season, and Romeo Okwara and his little brother Julian are going to be counted on to get the job done.
Despite very limited rookie production, here are the four keys to Julian Okwara having a big '21 campaign.
1.) For starters, he needs to get on the field more and needs to stay healthy.
Not only did he miss time with a leg injury last season, he also suffered a broken fibula back in 2019 while at Notre Dame.
He needs to shake the injury bug once and for all.
2.) He needs to be put in position to succeed by the coaching staff.
The younger Okwara has good playing speed and lightning fast hands, but he lacks explosiveness at the point of attack due to rigid hips.
If he is fanned out to line up in the wide-nine alignment pre-snap, that would put him in position to play more in space.
Freeing him up more like this would allow him to utilize his speed more in space and get through the back door of the pocket.
Okwara is cut in the mold of Devon Kennard, who logged seven sacks in each of his two seasons in Detroit (2017 and 2018).
Kennard ran a 4.7 40-yard dash coming out of college, and Okwara ran a 4.6.
Okwara compares favorably to Kennard in every way (size, speed and desire). There is no reason he cannot put up similar sack production, and that starts with game-planning.
3.) The coaching staff needs to match him up against right tackles, instead of against left tackles.
Right tackles are known to be not as athletic as left tackles, which further plays into the hands of Okwara.
By making this adjustment, the coaching staff could put him in a better position to succeed.
4.) Okwara needs his position coach to keep the fire lit within him.
This now becomes the job of new Lions defensive line coach Todd Wash, who has a track record of success from his days in Jacksonville, back in 2017 and 2018.
There is no question that Okwara has dynamic ability and a fire within him. But, it is going to take Wash to keep that fire stoked.
It has been said it's the players who make plays, but remember, it is the coaches who put them in position to succeed.
And, if the new coaching staff can recognize Okwara's strengths and game plan accordingly, we are going to see Okwara realize more of his full potential in 2021.
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