ALLEN PARK — A lot has changed since the last time Tracy Walker stepped on the field for the Detroit Lions.
The Lions ended the year winning eight of their final 10 games, sniffing the postseason picture until the season’s last day. And then they completely remodeled their secondary through the offseason, adding Cam Sutton, Emmanuel Moseley, C.J. Gardner-Johnson in free agency, not to mention Brian Branch through the draft. These additions came as former top pick Jeff Okudah was shipped to the Atlanta Falcons, where fellow outgoing Lions cornerback Mike Hughes landed, too.
“We got a lot of great pieces that we added from the rookies to vets,” Walker said after Thursday’s OTA session. “So honestly, man, it’s a great addition for us. Obviously, we had one of the worst secondaries in the league last year. So that’s something that we gotta change, and I’m just happy that we made progress to make those emotions happen.
“We just out here grinding, being the best we can be, building on that brotherhood, off the field, on the field. And like I said, it’s a great thing to be a part of. So I’m excited for what we’re gonna do this year. Like I said, we’re gonna make a lot of noise this year.”
And while Gardner-Johnson, Sutton and Moseley bring a new level of experience and voices to the defense. Walker is holding onto his standing as a team-voted captain and all-important voice in the team’s locker room.
“It definitely helps. It definitely helps with that experience,” Walker said. “But at the same time, I’m still the leader. I feel like that’s my room. So that’s how I look at it. You know, they’re gonna come in and obviously they’re leaders as well. We’re all leaders in our own way. But, you know, like I said, I just look at it as I got more ballers around me. And that’s how I approach it. You know, I don’t see it from that. Everybody’s a leader, from the rookies to the vets.
“Honestly, just being able to listen. Like I said, I can listen to Brian Branch, and he can tell me some things that he see in my backpedal, whereas I can listen to Cam and he can tell me the same thing, so it doesn’t really matter. In our room right now, there is no hierarchy or anything. Everybody sees everybody as equal. We’re just out here trying to get better. And however we can help each other, we can help.”
The safety vowed to return for the offseason program as much as possible. Walker went down with a season-ending Achilles injury in an early-season matchup against the Minnesota Vikings. And there he was, only seven months removed from Achilles surgery, running on the sideline and doing as much as possible with his teammates at Thursday’s OTA session.
Walker remains one of those potential cornerstone pieces that can help boost the defense on the field while being a vital voice inside that youthful locker room. And that’s a rare resource around these parts. Walker has been through quite the ride in Detroit for five seasons, too. The 2018 third-round pick was a starter by Year 2, then fell into a rotation in the final year of ex-Lions head coach Matt Patrcia’s tenure. Walker returned to form in 2021, starting 15 games while posting a career-high 108 tackles under Dan Campbell and Co. And the new regime rewarded him with a new three-year deal heading into last season.
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Walker said he has an upcoming meeting with his surgeon when asked what’s left in his way. But reinforced that he’s confident these next few weeks will be the last time he’s spotted on the sideline running separately from his teammates.
“I don’t know if I can tell you that. But it’s coming very soon,” Walker said. Like I said, after vet minicamp, that’ll be the last time you see me on the side running. So I’ll be back.
“There’s no complaints. I can’t hide the emotions, you know? It’s a blessing. So I’m very excited. … It’s hard to explain. it was cool that I got time to spend at home with my family, but at the end of the day I missed ball, you know. I missed coming out here and being around my teammates and being the leader that I am.”
The 28-year-old said he’s all about being a man of his word and that he was always going to stand on what he said and put out there as a goal.
“And like I said, if it was up to me, I would be out here running around right now,” Walker added. “But it’s not up to me. So honestly, I’m just trying to stay focused and continue to just strive to be the best I can be. Like I said, I’m seven months post-op, and I feel great.”
Walker said that he’s trying to find the balance of being there as much as possible while protecting himself. And that’s the challenge as things stand, especially as the team continues to increase their activity and aggression.
“It’s so difficult for me because I’ll be on the sideline, and I’m just over there running and doing my conditioning, and I’m like, ‘Man, I can go out here and run and do all my coverages and stuff,’” Walker said. “But that said, that’s the patient part. And you know, unfortunately, I have to be patient. I have everybody around me like, ‘slow down. Don’t go out there. We need you.’ So it’s cool to know that I’m wanted and I’m needed on this team. But at the same time, I want to go out there still and go perform and do what I do best. So it sucks. But it’s, I guess, a bittersweet feeling? So take it with a grain of salt, you know what I mean?”