Growth is important for second-year players like Jeff Okudah.
The Detroit Lions’ top pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the No. 3 overall selection in '20, struggled in his limited audition last season.
As a rookie, Okudah played in just nine games, and recorded one interception. Pro Football Focus gave him just a 30.2 coverage grade, one of the worst among all qualified players.
With a new head coach in Dan Campbell, it’s almost as though Okudah is getting a second chance at making a first impression in the league. Campbell said Thursday that Okudah is working hard to get better at his craft.
“From day one, meeting with him in the spring, you can tell he wants to be better,” Campbell said of Okudah. “He wanted to be a lot better than he was last year. That was very evident. Let’s call it what it is, you can’t be better if you don’t truly want to be better and accept that what I just put out there was not good enough. So, that’s a hard pill to swallow, but he’s done that.”
Campbell said there were a number of factors that showed Okudah was ready to be better in 2021, even though it’s still early in training camp.
“Body language,” Campbell said. “When you talk to him, what he asks, the time spent with (secondary coach) Aubrey (Pleasant), time that he doesn’t have to be here or the calls or the Zooms or he goes in there with (defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn). It’s one thing when a guy says it, but when he goes and wants to spend extra time with the defensive coaches on his own and then you watch him and listen to him and see how he attacks everything, you can feel it.”
Campbell added a thought on his expectations for second-year players, like Okudah. To him, development is about owning one’s respective role.
“You’ll never make the biggest jump that you’ll make in this league from year one to year two,” Campbell said. “It does not mean you’re not gonna continue to grow. But, you see it over and over. And, I remember it as a player, man, year one and year two. Because you don’t know when you’re a rookie, you’re hanging on, man.”
Okudah missed the final six games of the 2020 season due to a groin injury, one he had surgically repaired in the offseason. Speaking with the media in May, Okudah said he felt he was near 100 percent.
As a result of getting closer to full health, he said he plans to take his game to another level.
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“It just feels like I have a different level that I wasn’t able to kind of tap into last year,” Okudah said. “But, I feel like, this year, just kind of moving around now and not having that pain in my groin anymore. It just feels like a different level.”
Okudah is expected to start at cornerback, opposite Amani Oruwariye, in the upcoming season.
“It’s a long season,” Campbell said. “We’re gonna have some ups and downs, but (Okudah)’s in a good place right now.”
Why Lions didn’t use last roster spot
The Lions have been sitting at 89, in terms of roster size, for roughly two months now. Although they have the flexibility to add another player, it seems they’ll choose not to.
Campbell addressed the matter Thursday.
In short, the Lions are keeping the roster spot available in case something happens that forces the Lions to sign another body. By keeping the roster spot open, Campbell & Co. will avoid having to cut a player to make the signing.
“Really, just so (if) something happens, we need a spot now. That was the reasoning behind that,” Campbell said. “So that we could, hey, need a corner, we can slide them in right now. Everything’s been, that’s kinda what it was. So, we didn’t have to go through, ‘Well, who are we cutting now,’ before we decide we’re gonna bring somebody in. It just gave us flexibility to make an immediate move.”
Lions activate wide receiver Javon McKinley
Lions wide receiver Javon McKinley was activated Thursday off the non-football injury (NFI) list. This allows him to practice, which he will do Thursday morning.
McKinley is a 6-foot-2 wide receiver from Notre Dame who went undrafted in the 2021 NFL Draft. As a senior, McKinley caught 42 passes for 717 yards and three touchdowns.
In his collegiate career, McKinley caught 53 passes for 985 yards and seven touchdowns. He was named honorable mention All-Atlantic Coast Conference during his senior season.