Matchup With Fitz Shows Tracy Walker 'I Can Play With Best Of The Best'

Walker rose to the challenge in his first career start.

Will Burchfield
September 10, 2019 - 2:38 pm

© Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

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On a gloomy afternoon in the Lions' locker room, Tracy Walker flashed a smile. 

Yeah, he said. I'll be good. 

He wasn't talking about the Lions' collapse on Sunday that saw a Week 1 win crumble into a tie. Walker had already moved on from that. 

He was talking about the fact that he played all 89 snaps on defense, exactly a third of what he logged all of last season. Walker hadn't played that much since his days at Louisiana-Lafayette. It felt good to do so again, even at a cost. 

"I'm a little sore," he said, "but it’s alright."

Nothing a little cryotherapy can't fix. 

"Get some treatment in and I’ll be alright." 

Then Walker smiled again. 

If the team was despondent after letting a win slip away in the season-opener, Walker had reason to feel a bit lighter. In his first career start, and his first real test as the replacement for Glover Quin, the second-year safety held his own. 

He picked off Kyler Murray with an acrobatic catch on the sideline, closed quickly and physically in the secondary and finished with two passes defended and a team-high nine tackles. When it was all said and done, Walker wound up with the highest grade on Detroit's defense, per Pro Football Focus. 

For a good portion of the afternoon, Walker locked horns with Larry Fitzgerald -- a duel Quin would have relished. The Hall-of-Fame receiver got him a couple times, including a diving, 45-yard catch in overtime, but Walker broke up a deep ball before that by blasting Fitzgerald just as he was coming down with the catch. 

He came away from the matchup with a boost of confidence. 

"It showed me that I can definitely play with the best of the best, but it (also) showed me I still got a lot of work to do," he said. "I took a lot of good things from of it. I made a lot of plays, but I left a lot of plays out there. The main thing with me is, now I just go learn from the mistakes and prepare for Philip Rivers and the Chargers." 

Fitzgerald finished with eight catches for 113 yards and a touchdown, though that didn't come exclusively against Walker. Matt Patricia was pleased with Walker's performance, and knows he learned some things from the 16-year vet who can twist and turn to catch almost any pass. 

One thing that stood out to Walker? The way Fitzgerald "understands (where) the ball is at" and is always able to adjust. 

"He's a Hall-of-Famer," Walker said. "You take every aspect from it."

Watching Walker throughout last season, it became evident why the Lions drafted him in the third round in 2018 -- and why Patricia and Bob Quinn reacted with such excitement at the time, even as outsiders deemed it a reach. Watching him throughout training camp this summer, it became clearer still. 

"I have a lot of confidence in Tracy," Patricia said. "Tracy's done a great job through training camp. If you watch a lot of his one-on-one coverage drills through camp and through the competition that we had with some of the other teams that we brought in, he did a really good job on that stuff." 

And watching him on Sunday, Walker showed he's ready for the role the Lions hoped he could fill. The game was spoiled at the end, but that shouldn't spoil what Walker put on film.

So forgive him a smile, even as the tie was brutal to swallow. 

"We hate losing," he said. "We’re all sore losers, so this one hurt us. We felt like we had the ups, and they came back and had a great scheme and outfought us.

"We just have to use this as ammunition to bounce back."