If you looked at certain mock drafts at certain points in 2021, you may have seen Levi Onwuzurike as a first-round pick despite skipping the 2020 season due to COVID. The Detroit Lions took him 41st overall in the 2021 draft, hoping he'd become a centerpiece of the defensive.
Onwuzurike played 16 games as a rookie, but he was not especially impactful as he dealt with a back injury. The back issue flared up during the first padded practice of 2022 training camp, and he eventually had season-ending surgery without playing a game.
As this year's training camp started, Onwuzurike's status bore attention. Offseason updates from head coach Dan Campbell were as vague as they were not particularly promising, owing to the tricky nature of back injuries.
But there Onwuzurike was, ready to go without limitations on the first day of training camp. Now, through joint practices against the New York Giants before the preseason opener, there has been no indications of a recurrence of his back problem or anything. No news is clearly good news.
Levi Onwuzurike stacking healthy days at Lions training camp for first time
Ben Raven of MLive caught up with Onwuzurike after Tuesday's practice against the Giants. It was a good day for him, and he couldn't hide how good it felt.
"Oh, it felt good, 100%. I mean, not playing for a year, it just feels good to actually get out there and feel good while you play,” a still-smiling Onwuzurike told MLive. “It’s been huge for me. And I think huge for my career. Just being able to go practice without an issue. Being able to increase my reps day after day without an issue. I think that just goes to show how much work I put in and how much our training staff put in with me over this recovery period.”"- Levi Onwuzurike
Before Wednesday's morning practice against the Giants, Campbell mentioned Onwuzurike's progress.
Onwuzurike literally has not played a fully healthy football season since 2019, if he even did then based on his back issue lingering from college into his NFL career. That feels like a very long time ago in the world at-large, and it's an eternity in football years. But this is still a young player, 25 years old, and simply being healthy for a sustained stretch is a huge step for Onwuzurike.