How Detroit Lions CB Jeff Okudah improved his play 'night and day'

Carlos Monarrez, Detroit Free Press
·4 min read

The difference, Jeff Okudah said about his play, is quite stark.

“I want to say it’s night and day,” the Detroit Lions' rookie cornerback said Wednesday. “I still have a long ways to go. I’ve learned a lot about the nuances of the position, the little details.

“I’ve really relied on the other (defensive backs) in the room. The veterans on the team were a lot of help. So that’s been really big.”

Okudah, the No. 3 overall pick out of Ohio State, didn’t make his debut until Week 2, when he drew a tough assignment helping cover Davante Adams in the 42-21 loss at Green Bay.

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Lions cornerback Jeff Okudah breaks up a pass intended for Falcons receiver Julio Jones during the first half on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020, in Atlanta.
Lions cornerback Jeff Okudah breaks up a pass intended for Falcons receiver Julio Jones during the first half on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020, in Atlanta.

He has covered other elite receivers like DeAndre Hopkins of the Arizona Cardinals and Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons.

With an odd offseason and scaled back training camp, and no preseason games, this year has been a bigger challenge for rookies. But Okudah, who already has a reputation for being an obsessive student of the game, found a way to make up for the lost time in the offseason.

“I would say what’s helped me a lot is just putting in the extra time and staying after, staying late, watching film, getting in early, doing what I have to do,” he said. “Kind of forming a routine that’s kind of slowed everything down as opposed to coming out here and just freestyling everything.

“Obviously, the rookie class lost a lot of time with the way things played out with COVID. So I say that just because I’m finding ways to get that time back.”

Okudah’s task has been a trial by fire necessitated in part by injuries, but playing so much so early has also provided a valuable education.

“Yeah, I would say it’s really beneficial just to kind of get those top-tier receivers under my belt,” he said. “It’s a league filled with great receivers, but at the top there’s not too many guys like those.

“So just to be able to get those guys in in the first five, six weeks of the season, I think that that’s been big because I’ve seen some of the best of the best so far.”

Facing elite competition isn’t the only thing that has helped Okudah improve. He has leaned on some of the Lions’ receivers in order to see the game from the perspective of the offense.

“I’m starting to pick up little things that receives do on the NFL level, which is obviously different than the college level,” he said. “And I think that Marv Jones has been a big help with me. He’s talking me through the things that he sees. So I’ve been utilizing him as a resource and I think that that’s really helped me see things from a different perspective.”

Jacksonville Jaguars' D.J. Chark attempts to catch a pass while defended by Detroit Lions' Jeff Okudah during the fourth quarter at TIAA Bank Field on Oct. 18, 2020 in Jacksonville, Fla.
Jacksonville Jaguars' D.J. Chark attempts to catch a pass while defended by Detroit Lions' Jeff Okudah during the fourth quarter at TIAA Bank Field on Oct. 18, 2020 in Jacksonville, Fla.

Quarterbacks are known for “looking off” defensive backs in order to move coverage during a play. But receivers do something similar and try to fake out defensive backs with their own eye fakes. Hopkins used the tactic to victimize Okudah in Arizona on Week 3. Since then, it has been a focus.

“So one thing that we’ve been really big on with me is getting my eyes right,” he said. “So I think that I’ve taken steps in the right direction the last couple weeks in getting my eyes right.

“And obviously veterans have a lot of crafty moves, so he gave me the early eyes, which caused me to turn my head and they were able to get one over the top. So I think that just seeing things and kind of adding that into my toolbox, the things that I’ve seen before, so it’s not new has also been big in helping me.”

Contact Carlos Monarrez at cmonarrez@freepress.com and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: How Detroit Lions CB Jeff Okudah improved his play 'night and day'