In 2020, defensive lineman Romeo Okwara played in all 16 games for the Detroit Lions and led the team with 10.0 sacks. He also pitched in 11 tackles for loss and 18 quarterback hits in his best season as a professional.
Since then, however, Okwara's only played in nine games the last two seasons combined because of a long rehab from a torn Achilles suffered in early 2021.
Now the eight-year veteran finds himself in a situation where he has to prove himself again. He took a pay cut to stay in Detroit this offseason. He said last week he's finally at a point physically where he feels like his old self again – maybe even better.
"I think I'm at an even better spot, honestly," he said during Detroit's mandatory minicamp. "I've hit the recovery process hard, and I feel like I made great strides on that front."
Okwara returned Week 14 last season and had a two-sack performance against the New York Jets in a Lions' win Week 15 on the road.
He said he felt pretty far from 100 percent when he returned late last year from more than a year off but has made great strides to get to a point where he is this spring. It's something head coach Dan Campbell has noticed as well.
"He is moving better," Campbell said. "And there again, with the Achilles, everyone is a little different with how they come back from them. And certainly he's moving better than even he did at the end of last year.
"And so that's good to see. He and Charles (Harris) both – to see them come back from these injuries. And they're both workers, man. They're pros. They put everything into it. So there again, it's good to see him get back on his feet, move better, and we still have more time before camp gets here too."
Hutchinson and Paschal have looked good this spring. Harris has gotten a lot of first-team reps opposite Hutchinson. Houston continues to be disruptive, and it will be interesting to see how defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn opts to utilize him on the edge.
For Okwara, he's glad to be back playing again. He's got a track record of success and will attempt to earn back a role.
"It always feels good to be able to participate and be with the team," Okwara said. "It's not fun watching from the sidelines or watching from home so it feels really good to be out here with the team."