Levi Onwuzurike leaving back issues behind with strong offseason work

Levi Onwuzurike is easy to put on the wrong side of the roster bubble for the Lions. but he's healthy and putting in noticeable work at OTAs.
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A back issue limited Levi Onwuzurike as a rookie in 2021, and an early training camp injury cost him all of the 2022 season. He chronicled the details of a major back surgery just before last season started, after he had stacked healthy days in training camp.

Apparently fully healthy, as that could be defined for him, Onwuzurike played very little last season (10 games, 132 defensive snaps) then played 32 snaps across three playoff games. Through no fault of his own, he has been easy to offer as an eventual roster cut for the Lions.

If you saw the right mock drafts late in that process back in 2021, you could have seen Onwuzurike as a late first-round pick. But his body has not allowed him to get anywhere near that potential through three NFL seasons.

To say this is a big offseason, and season, for Onwuzurike is an understatement. Not only for his time as a Lion, but for his NFL career.

Lions defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike is not quite done yet

Before Wednesday's minicamp practice, via Jeff Risdon of Lion Wire and careful to note that pads aren't on yet, Lions head coach Dan Campbell talked about Onwuzurike.

"Levi is having a really good spring,” Campbell said. “(Josh) Paschal is too but Levi – because where he’s come from and all he’s had to deal with, I mean, this guy just has continued to rehab, he’s continued to train his body and work, he’s put on weight because his back can handle it now, we got him through last year to where he’s able to bank some reps and he’s having a really good spring.”

Onwuzurike surrounded Campbell's comments with strong showings in practice on Tuesday and Wednesday, as reporters on the ground at Allen Park have noted him lining up inside and out on the edge. He has also added good weight, up to around 300 pounds after playing at 280 last year. That's a direct product of being able to train properly this offseason, with his back healthy. Reporters have noted how he looks more muscular than he did before.

After Wednesday's practice, Onwuzurike had a simple explanation for the big difference a healthy back makes.

"The best way I can explain it is everything is moving together as one. Speed to power, my whole body feels like one, all together.”

There's a lot to be determined, but Onwuzurike is making an impression on everyone who has seen him during OTAs. It's obvious, but simply being healthy enough to perform on the practice field day in and day out has made a huge difference.