The release of veteran Glover Quin this offseason has created an opening for the Detroit Lions at their starting safety spot next to Quandre Diggs heading into the 2019 season.
Last year’s third-round pick, Tracy Walker, who played on 27.1 percent of the defensive snaps as a rookie is a candidate for the job. But veterans Andrew Adams and Tavon Wilson, and incoming rookie Will Harris, are also expected to throw their names into the competition.
In Walker, the Lions have a rangy, big-hitting, playmaking youngster, one who saw his role increase more and more as last season went on. His steady growth and immense ability caught the eye of some of his defensive teammates last year, especially Diggs.
“You could just see the progress each and every week,” the veteran said of Walker. “A guy that wants to learn every day. Loves to be around myself and loves to be around guys like Tavon and tries to learn the ins and outs of being an NFL player.”
By Pro Football Focus grading standards, when Walker was playing on defense as a rookie, he was a top 16 safety in the NFL.
Now heading into his second season, he has a sturdy confidence about him. It's a confidence that comes with being comfortable with where his game is trending, and knowing there’s a terrific opportunity in front of him.
Walker wasn’t training for the Combine this offseason or crisscrossing the country for job interviews. He got an opportunity to work on his game, emphasizing the technique part of it. He feels like he’s a more complete player heading into 2019.
“Honestly, I attacked this offseason as if I was expected to walk in and be a leader of the secondary,” Walker said in a recent interview. “That’s what I intend to hang my hat on. I definitely want to see myself as that guy.
“I took a different approach (to this offseason). I took the approach that I have to be better in every aspect – mentally, physically and emotionally. I’ve got to make sure I’m well rounded, so when I come back, I can be ready to grind it out.”
Walker recorded 21 tackles and had an interception as a rookie. He also had an interception called back late in Detroit’s Week 2 game in San Francisco on a penalty away from the play that could have changed the course of the loss to the 49ers.
Head coach Matt Patricia said this offseason that Walker showed ability in practice last year that we haven't even seen in a game yet.
That ability also impressed Diggs.
View photos from Day 2 of 2019 Detroit Lions Rookie Minicamp on Saturday May 11, 2019 in Allen Park, Mich.
“You can see the range,” Diggs said of Walker. “You can see how physical he is. You can see the cover ability. You can see all of it. He’s got the total package to be a good player. At the end of the day, he’s just got to put it out on the field.”
Comments like those from Diggs – someone Walker’s looked up to since arriving in Detroit – fuel him to live up to that potential so he can make an impact.
“I’m a firm believer that you have to earn the respect of your teammates and coaches before you can earn the respect of anyone else,” Walker said. “For (Quandre) to speak high of me like that means I’m doing something right, and I need to continue doing it, but just at a higher level.
“I’m grateful for guys like Quandre and Tavon (Wilson) and (Darius) Slay. I came into a great spot and great coaching system.”
Walker says he’s hit the ground running in the lead up to OTAs next week, and has his eyes on playing a big role in the secondary in 2019. He showed promise as a rookie. The bar will certainly be set higher for him heading into his second season.
“I have to compete every day,” he said. “I have to make sure that I establish that I’m the best safety here for my position.”