Jeff Okudah off to a great start in rewriting his Detroit Lions career

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There’s no beating around the bush here. I’ll just come out and say it:

Jeff Okudah is off to a fantastic start at Detroit Lions training camp.

The jersey number is new, the competition around him has improved and the expectations for the third-year cornerback have dimmed a little. But Okudah sure has looked a lot like the guy the Lions–team, fans, media–expected when the prior Detroit regime made Okudah the No. 3 overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft.

Granted the pads aren’t on yet and the drills have been limited. Okudah can’t control the NFL rules and limitations to start camp. Everything that he can control, Okudah is dominating.

He’s the fastest corner of those who will play regularly. He’s probably the strongest too, though Jerry Jacobs (currently recovering from an injury of his own) might have something to say about that. And he’s proving he can apply those impressive physical skills into consistently winning in coverage.

Take Thursday’s practice. In one period of a drill, Okudah:

  • Rode wideout Quintez Cephus out of bounds with a jam without doing anything illegal

  • Ran step for step with WR Josh Reynolds on a deep route in perfect stride

  • Correctly anticipated a comeback route by Cephus and jumped it, forcing QB Jared Goff to double-clutch and throw elsewhere

There was more strong play in Friday’s session. He got beat once in the red zone drill, losing DJ Chark in traffic across the middle. That was about the only blemish on Okudah’s day. He’s been both anticipatory and quick to react, showing closing burst and confidence in his eyes–the two things (aside from health) that he struggled with the most in his first two NFL years.

Okudah’s head coach remains very optimistic about the 23-year-old cornerback.

“Nobody wants it more than he does,” Dan Campbell said Wednesday. “I mean he’s put in the work, he looks healthy, and I think at this point all you can do now is go to work and show what you’ve got and see if you can continue to progress. Because look, ultimately, that’s the thing here is he just hadn’t got a ton of football in him because of the injury.”

That optimism is not unfounded. Okudah looked very impressive last summer in training camp, asserting himself as the best defensive back on the team. He was healthy after a disappointing rookie campaign where he battled a sports hernia and never got acclimated to the NFL.

All that promise from a year ago was washed away with the Achilles injury in Week 1. It’s something Okudah has an appreciation for now, something he shared with reporters after Wednesday’s practice.

“A blessing just to know where I was at a year ago,” Okudah said. “First time competing in about 11 months, so just to get out here was a really, really big accolade for me personally.”

It’s understandable if fans remain skeptical. They’ve not seen nearly enough good from Okudah in two years. Not even close. He’s poised to change that in 2022. Okudah is off to a great start in rewriting his career story in Detroit.

Can the positive story stay on script once the games start meaning something? We’ll find out. As long as Okudah is healthy, I’m definitely buying the new story he’s writing this summer.

Story originally appeared on Lions Wire