Mon, 27 Sep 2021

Mike OHara

Cornerback Jeff Okudah didn't rest in a break between periods in the Detroit Lions' practice Thursday morning.

Instead, Okudah used the time along with a teammate in the Lions' defensive backfield to go through some detailed drills with defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant.

Over and over, Okudah worked on hand placement and footwork. They were small steps - literally - but they can produce big improvement as Okudah works to bounce back from a disappointing rookie season.

"Playing cornerback is a game of inches - subtle movements," Okudah said after practice. "It's a PBU, an interception, even a touchdown. Just being able to pinpoint those movements and make it as precise as possible - it really pays dividends."

Time is on Okudah's side as he prepares for his second season with the Lions. It was just the opposite a year ago.

Time worked against him, as it did for every rookie in the NFL. There were no offseason workouts or minicamp because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first time Okudah stepped on the practice field as a member of the Detroit Lions was for the start of training camp.

It should have been predictable that Okudah would not live up to the expectations the Lions had for him when they drafted him third overall out of Ohio State.

Time wasn't all that worked against him. Okudah sustained a core muscle injury early in the season. He tried to play through it before finally shutting down for the season and undergoing surgery.

The bottom line on Okudah's rookie season: Nine games, six starts, one interception and struggles in coverage.

With a regular offseason behind him - OTAs, minicamp and the work he has done on his own - Okudah feels like he has gotten the work he missed as a rookie.

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"I feel like it's night and day," Okudah said. "Last season was really weird. Being able to end the season, have an OTA period, have a training period where I can go and pinpoint all the weaknesses and work on them and come to training camp - I think that's going to be a great help for me."

Even following a normal season, head coach Dan Campbell would expect significant improvement in Year Two from any rookie.

"You will never make the biggest jump as you will make from year one to year two," Campbell said. "You just won't. You see it over and over. I remember it as a player. You don't know what you don't know as a rookie. You're hanging on."

Okudah's work ethic and inquisitive nature regarding his position has impressed Campbell.

"From day one, meeting with him in the spring, you can tell he just wants to be better," Campbell said. "He wants to be a lot better."

Okudah has developed a strong relationship with Pleasant. He appreciates the time Pleasant has been willing to give him.

"Me and Coach Pleasant are kind of like match made in heaven," Okudah said. "My game is always based around technique. That's something he brought to the table every single day.

"He never gets frustrated answering my questions."

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