Players typically take their biggest leap in development between their first and second seasons in the NFL. The Lions are hoping that's the case for all their second-year players, especially defensive end Levi Onwuzurike.
After missing a lot of training camp with a back issue and starting Week 1 on the inactive list, Onwuzurike saw his reps increase throughout the season. The second-round pick out of Washington had some highs and some lows throughout the course of his rookie year.
"I know everybody's down on Levi, but we're not," Lions defensive line coach Todd Wash said back in January. "I think he's had some major flash plays, and like we were saying, he's had some not-so-good plays. But I think the arrow was definitely up on Levi."
Onwuzurike recorded one sack, two tackles for loss and two defended passes in 16 games last season. Wash and the Lions challenged Onwuzurike to take care of his body and improve his lower body strength and flexibility this offseason, and it appears Onwuzurike took that advice to heart.
"He looks good," Lions head coach Dan Campbell said of Onwuzurike after seeing him in the building last week. "I know it's early and we're only in April, but you can tell he's been working. That says something. That says something to you without saying anything."
The Lions are moving to more of a 4-3 defensive front next season, in part, to play a little heavier and utilize the skill they have on the interior of their defensive line with Onwuzurike, veteran Michael Brockers and second-year nose tackle Alim McNeill.
The Lions will take a big step toward being better defensively in 2022 if Onwuzurike takes an equally big step forward in his production in his second season.
"As we all know, you don't make any greater jumps than you do from (years) one to two," Campbell said. "That is the greatest jump that most guys make. So we're expecting him to take a leap forward. I know he's of the right mindset. Even just talking to him when he left.
"First of all, he wasn't going to leave. He was going to stick around here for a while, which he did. He's been working. Went back home for a little bit and he's come back up. He's put his money where his mouth is. I know that from a training standpoint. He's got enough pride and he knows what he needs to do. I expect him to have a better year."