It’s been nearly two years since Levi Onwuzurike has played in a football game.
He opted out of his final season at Washington, erasing any opportunity to get in-game reps in 2020. Despite this, he still was a second-round selection by the Detroit Lions in the 2021 NFL Draft.
On Sunday, he wrapped up his first minicamp as a member of the Lions.
“I haven’t played football in so long,” Onwuzurike said. “It just feels real good.”
The final day of minicamp featured a lot of competition at various positions. Onwuzurike embraced this, as it offered a chance to get energy flowing.
Having not played in so long, Onwuzurike said he felt that there was some rust to shake off.
“I knocked off a little bit of rust for sure,” Onwuzurike said. “I think we kind of all tied it together, brought it together on this third day of minicamp. It just felt good, and I’m real excited to be out here.”
This energy has been present in many of the Lions’ minicamp practices, according to the new Detroit defensive tackle.
The excitement for this minicamp has been shared by the coaches and players. After a season in which several players either opted out or didn’t play, the gatherings offer a chance to compete.
“I don’t know who was more excited, the rookies or the staff,” Lions head coach Dan Campbell said. “The staff is giddy. They look like a bunch of little kids out there, running around … they’re excited.”
Onwuzurike specifically spoke about Campbell, who has made waves with his energy during his first few media sessions as Lions head man.
“I love (Campbell),” Onwuzurike said. “He’s real cool. Real chill guy, but still has that intensity. He’s a great fit for me, (and) he’s a great fit for the team. I’m really impressed with just the person he is. How welcoming he is has really impressed me. I love him 100 percent already. He has a great impression on the team, talking about toughness, having grit when we go out there, everybody competing out there. He hits all those points."
He added, "Our practices are fun. We just had a little competition day today.”
Onwuzurike was one of two consecutive defensive tackles taken by the Lions in the 2021 draft. The other -- N.C. State’s Alim McNeill -- brings more of a run-stopping presence, while Onwuzurike has the athleticism to rush the passer.
Together, the two could form the nucleus of a strong defensive unit for years to come.
“I already love (McNeill) as a person, great guy,” Onwuzurike said. “Football-wise, I just think he’s gonna wreck shop. We were just hitting the bags today. This dude is almost tearing the bags off the little post. I think we’re going to do some damage.”
A hot topic of discussion during the NFL offseason has been the rule change regarding player numbers. There has been no change to what numbers defensive linemen can wear, though, meaning that Onwuzurike will have to stick with a number between either 50-79 or 90-99.
This doesn’t bother him.
“For me, I don’t care,” Onwuzurike said. “I’ll wear whatever. I wore 95 in college, so that kind of stuck. But, I can wear anything.”
Due to the light numbers allowed in rookie minicamp, Detroit was forced to employ coaches at various positions. Among them was the offensive line, where players like Onwuzurike were forced to compete against them.
“It’s okay because it’s basically walkthrough,” Onwuzurike said. “It’s hard because you’re not going to put your hands fully on a coach and push them back.”
Onwuzurike’s decision to opt out of the 2020 season could’ve been influenced by the fact that his mother is a nurse. When he was drafted, he took advantage of the opportunity to take care of her.
“It’s huge for me,” Onwuzurike said. “Obviously, (it's) something I’ve wanted to do all my life, as I grow up. Just seeing her work hard. Being here is obviously a great opportunity, and we’ve got a lot more to go. I mean, I’m blessed to be here, and I’m blessed to be able to take care of my people.”
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