- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
The fourth-year safety has shown flashes of brilliance in his first three NFL seasons, but for a variety of reasons has not been able sustain his excellence on the field.
Walker said Thursday he is in a good spot personally after a trying year, and he seems poised to benefit from a new coaching staff and the Lions’ new safety-friendly defensive scheme.
LIONS OTAS OBSERVATIONS: Lions hope they have a gem in backup QB Tim Boyle
“Honestly, first off it’s a blessing to be able to play under this coach and this scheme,” Walker said after the Lions’ final organized team activities practice of the spring. “I appreciate the knowledge that I’ve been learning and the tips that these coaches have been giving me, and just to be quite frank with you, God willing, I feel like I’m going to have a good year just off of just the way the system (is) and just the way I’m treated. Every aspect of it, I believe. And I’m so happy right now just with everything going on, obviously.”
Walker struggled on the field in 2020, when he acknowledged that his personal life “intertwined with football in a lot of ways.”
Walker’s cousin, Ahmaud Arbery, was murdered last February, and Arbery’s death was at the forefront of the social justice movement that swept the nation last summer.
SHAWN WINDSOR: Jamaal Williams: Look out, football world! We're coming to surprise you
Walker and his wife, Bella, welcomed their first child, a son, last December, and Walker was one of several Lions who never seemed to mesh with former coach Matt Patricia’s vision for them on the field.
The Lions moved Walker from his natural free safety position and demoted him from the starting lineup after they traded for Duron Harmon last spring. When Walker returned to the starting lineup early in the season, he played mostly as a box safety and allowed a career-worst 122.8 quarterback rating, according to Pro Football Reference.
This year, Walker is expected to play primarily as a deep safety in a defense that will use an abundance of split-safety looks, one that Walker said is similar to the defense he ran in college at Louisiana.
“Honestly, I just get to be myself (in the new defense), let’s just say it like that,” Walker said. “I get to walk around and be myself and I can’t ask for much else. As long as I can be myself and be the solid person that I am, well, like I said, my play on the field will speak for itself.”
MORE ON THIS DEFENSE: Lions have their own uses of 'speed' and 'space' — in Aaron Glenn's scheme
Privately, Lions coaches have suggested Walker could fill a role similar to the one Marcus Williams has played for the New Orleans Saints the past four seasons. Williams, who was tutored by new Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, has 13 interceptions in his career and was a second-team Pro Football Focus All-Pro selection in 2020.
“It’s our job as coaches to not have the down Tracy, to have the up Tracy,” Glenn said last week. “So we have to continue to teach and he has to learn and understand exactly what we expect as him. That was the No. 1 thing, the expectations. Now, it’s get him in the classroom and put the tape on and showing him exactly how we want our safeties to play. And (last week at OTAs he was) outstanding. He keeps asking questions. Man, he calls — when we’re done with practice, trying to get his film watched and things like that. Man, he’s eating up all the stuff.”
Walker, who is entering the final season of his rookie contract, downplayed what a big season this fall could mean for him personally. But with free agency on the horizon, Williams, who was given a one-year franchise tag worth $10.6 million by the Saints in March, is an obvious example there, too.
Walker said his goal for now is to "be a better Tracy Walker III," and if that happens, "everything else will take care of itself" on and off the field.
“I obviously want to have a great year, but I got to be a better man,” he said. “I can definitely go out there and make plays, that’s no question and doubt whatsoever. But I feel like I have to mentally and emotionally be correct. That’s just bottom line, so that’s why I said me being the best me will take care of itself. I’ll make as many plays as possible if I’m the best Tracy.”
The Lions signed running back Michael Warren on Friday and waived-injured running back Rakeem Boyd. Warren appeared in one game for Washington last season, playing two special teams snaps. He had two 1,200-yard rushing seasons in college at Cincinnati.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Why Detroit Lions' Tracy Walker could have a breakout season in 2021