On Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions safety Tracy Walker will get his first start since tearing his Achilles last season. As he comes out of the tunnel at Ford Field, it will mark 364 days since suffering that injury. Yes, literally one day before the year anniversary of that dreadful afternoon in Minnesota in which Walker’s 2022 season ended in an instant.
Walker doesn’t believe the timeline is a coincidence.
“I’m a very spiritual man. I believe in god very, very heavily,” Walker said. “I just feel like this is god’s plan. He took me away from the game last year at this time, and he’s bringing me back into the game in this situation.”
Obviously, no one ever wants to see a teammate go down with an injury. Walker is stepping into the lineup because C.J. Gardner-Johnson tore his pectoral last week and may not return to the lineup this season. Walker knows losing such a valuable piece to the defensive puzzle will be a big adjustment for the entire team.
“It’s a tough situation losing C.J.,” Walker said. “He brought a different aspect to our team, his energy, his enthusiasm is definitely going to be missed. He was definitely a great player for us.”
Walker can certainly relate to Gardner-Johnson’s situation. He has spent the better part of a year rehabbing from that Achilles tear. And despite spending tireless hours to be physically ready for training camp, Walker’s time practicing with the first-team defense lasted just a couple weeks, as rookie Brian Branch proved too valuable to keep out of the starting lineup, and it was Walker who went to the bench as a backup.
It was a tough pill to swallow for Walker and a frustrating time for the sixth-year defender. However, Walker credits his months and months of his Achilles rehab for making him a more mentally and emotionally tough person.
“The way I handled the whole situation from my role change… I probably would have been a lot more pissed off before I got hurt if that would have happened compared to when I came back,” Walker said. “Little things like that have made me better. I understand life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you respond.”
Walker believes he’s also physically better than before. Prior to his injury, Walker was a full-time starter and a budding leader on defense. His best season was 2021, where he tallied 108 tackles, six passes defended, and an interception. That performance earned him a three-year, $25 million contract in Detroit.
Now preparing for just his fourth start since signing that contract, Walker couldn’t hide the excitement for the opportunity. Grinning ear-to-ear for the entire media session, the anticipation—and confidence—was beaming.
“it’s going to be very emotional for me. It’s going to definitely spark some emotions and some feelings,” Walker said. “But at the end of the day, I still got to go out there and play ball. But I’m going to be so happy to fly around. Y’all are going to see 21 back out there. 21 gonna make a lot of plays.”