Seven months removed from the Achilles tear he suffered in Week 3 of last season, Lions safety Tracy Walker III is ecstatic to be back on the field for Detroit's offseason team activities, and ready to get back to work.
"It feels great to be back," Walker said Thursday, via the team website. "I can't hide the emotions, you know? It's a blessing. I'm very excited. Honestly, I missed it. It's hard to explain. It was cool I got time to spend at home with my family but at the end of the day I missed ball. I missed coming out here, being around my teammates and being the leader that I am."
The 28-year-old led Detroit in tackles in 2021 with a career-high 108, and was off to a similarly hot start in 2022 before suffering his injury in a Sept. 25 loss to the Vikings.
Walker said that he should be able to return in a full capacity by the time training camp starts, and he'll be rejoining a secondary that's undergone some changes since he went down.
Once Walker went on injured reserve, younger players had to step up, notably Kerby Joseph, a 2022 draft pick who ended up starting 14 games as a rookie in place of Walker, collecting 82 tackles and four interceptions in the process.
"To see Kerby step up and go out there and do what he did and a lot of younger guys, as well ... those guys stepped in and had their opportunities," Walker said. "It was good to allow them to get that exposure. It's allowing them to come out here now and they look so much better because of that experience they gained. There's pros and cons to it. As a leader, that's exciting for me."
In addition to the anticipated return of Walker, the Lions have done a good amount this offseason to bolster their secondary, which was notably a weaker point in 2022 when they narrowly missed a playoff berth.
While Detroit's offense was ranked fifth in the league in points scored per game (26.7), the defense was conversely 29th in the league in points allowed (25.1) and gave up the third-most passing yards of any team. While the defense got better down the stretch, adding depth was clearly still a point of emphasis heading into this offseason.
The Lions have already made multiple moves toward filling that hole, signing veteran defensive backs C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Cameron Sutton and Emmanuel Moseley in free agency, plus picking Alabama's Brian Branch in the second round of last month's draft.
If the return of Walker and other offseason moves have the desired effect, the Lions will have put themselves in a much better position for this season, with Walker predicting that eyes will be on Detroit in 2023.
"Honestly, we just grinding. Being the best we can be," Walker said. "It's a great thing to be a part of. I'm excited for what we're going to do this year and like I said we're going to make a lot of noise this year."