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Onwuzurike hoping 2024 is a redemption year for him

Levi Onwuzurike is hoping 2024 is a redemption year.

The former second-round pick by the Detroit Lions in 2021 dealt with back pain as a rookie to an extent he couldn't sit up in a chair during team meetings. He still battled through the pain and played 16 games that season, finishing with 35 tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack.

He underwent back surgery after the season and missed the entire 2022 season.

He returned to the field last year in a reserve role, playing 10 games and finishing with a sack and tackle for loss.

Now entering his fourth season, a contract year, Onwuzurike thinks he's ready for a breakout year. After playing at 280 pounds last season, he said he's at 300 pounds (with maybe a couple more to gain) this spring and feels the best he has in years.

"It just feels like we're back playing football," Onwuzurike said after practice Wednesday. "You come out here and all you are worried about is getting tired. You're not worried about your body hurting. You're not worried about nothing else. And an offseason all you're worried about is working hard. It makes things a lot easier, for sure. It feels good. My back is nice and healthy, and my body can take the weight. It feels good out here."

Onwuzurike explained the difference he feels in his body as having his lower body and upper body finally moving together as one, and it's significantly improved his speed to power combination, even with the added weight. He said his body finally feels like it's working all together for the first time since he joined the NFL.

Lions head coach Dan Campbell called out Onwuzurike Wednesday when asked about players who have a been a pleasant surprise so far this spring.

"Levi (Onwuzurike) would be the guy – it's just good to see, man, he's put on weight, which we talked about doing, so he's able to hold that weight and he's strong, he's explosive, and he's just banking good reps right now," Campbell said.

He's made a couple nice plays over the last two days of minicamp, including a sack on quarterback Hendon Hooker that blew up a play in a team period Wednesday.

The Lions have made significant improvements along their defensive line this offseason with the additions of DJ Reader and Marcus Davenport to pair with Aidan Hutchinson and Alim McNeill. Josh Paschal, James Houston, Mekhi Wingo and John Cominsky are expected to be key reserves upfront, and the Lions are hoping they can count on Onwuzurike to also be part of that rotation as a versatile lineman who can play inside and outside and be the player they thought he could be when they drafted him in the second round.

View photos from Day 2 of Detroit Lions minicamp on Wednesday, June 5, 2024 in Allen Park, Mich.

Onwuzurike is not worried about this being a contract year. He said if he just comes out and puts in the work and makes the plays he knows he can make, the business side of the game will work itself out.

"I don't know, redemption," Onwuzurike said when asked to sum up his career to this point. "I have to show people what I can do. I have to show myself what I can do."

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