It was an up and down rookie season for Detroit Lions defensive end Levi Onwuzurike last year.
There were certainly flashes from the second-round pick, but also times when he disappeared for too long of stretches. Onwuzurike battled through a back injury in training camp and he never really got healthy for any stretch of time.
"He knew he had to have a plan to take care of his body this offseason," Lions defensive line coach Todd Wash told detroitlions.com this week of Onwuzurike. "That was the biggest thing. I know he played, he didn't miss games really for the most part, but he was not healthy. He was battling through it.
"I think our strength staff did a really nice job this offseason. He's not limping. He can actually sit in a chair for meetings. So, health is the biggest thing for him."
Onwuzurike played in 16 games for the Lions last season with 35 total tackles, two tackles for loss, two passes defended and a sack. There was some impact there, but probably not as much as the Lions were hoping for.
Wash and the Lions are expecting a lot more from Onwuzurike in his second season, especially with the changes the Lions are making upfront with their defensive schemes. Detroit's moving to more of a 4-3 base defense this season, though they'll still have some 3-4 concepts mixed in. Overall they are adopting a more attacking approach upfront.
"We were a read front last year," Wash said. "When the offensive lineman would step, we would step in that direction. Now, we are attacking. We are coming off the ball and playing at the heels of the offensive linemen."
Wash said that kind of scheme fits their personnel better, especially Onwuzurike, who is a big, powerful player, but has surprisingly quick and nimble feet for his size (6-3, 295).
"The changing of philosophy upfront, I think we're going to see the power and explosiveness we see in him," Wash said. "He's been here (at the practice facility) every day and he's looking jacked. I'm kind of excited about that one."