Jeff Okudah is ready to go.
After a lackluster rookie campaign that saw him struggle with injuries, Okudah feels optimistic. There is a certain hunger that comes with missing a significant amount of time in the NFL, and Okudah is feeling it.
As he trends toward 100 percent health after offseason surgery, Okudah is raring to get going and to kick off the season.
“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 played in nine games last season, starting six. He picked off one pass, and made 47 total tackles. However, he struggled in coverage against some of the better wide receivers in the league, namely Green Bay’s Davante Adams.
Despite the struggles, Okudah isn’t worried about any added pressure that could be placed on him.
“I really don’t feel any pressures,” Okudah said. “Because sitting down with (Aaron Glenn and Aubrey Pleasant), it’s not about putting pressure on myself. It’s about coming in every day with the mindset to get better.”
His second season, which will be his first with a new defensive coordinator in Glenn and secondary coach in Pleasant, offers a chance to right the wrongs.
“Within the first couple of meetings, I was just picking up so much things that I thought to myself, ‘It just would have been nice to have these tools in my toolbox in my rookie year,’” Okudah said.
The new coaching staff offers a fresh start not just for Okudah, but an entire Lions defense that was one of the worst in franchise history a year ago.
“I came with the mindset that it’s not too many times in life where you’re able to get a fresh start on so many different elements all at the same time,” Okudah said.
Okudah is one of several young cornerbacks that the Lions are investing in for the future, along with third-year corner Amani Oruwariye and rookie Ifeatu Melifonwu.
“I think it’s an interesting opportunity,” Okudah said. “It gives us a chance to go out there, something to prove every single day. Something that we’re going to embrace.”
Okudah noted that he has had conversations with Oruwariye throughout the offseason about what this new opportunity is going to allow the defense to do.
Detroit focused much of its 2021 draft on the defensive unit, picking up two defensive linemen, a linebacker and Melifonwu. Okudah expressed his excitement to get on the field with the first-year pros this fall.
“I think they all stick out to me,” Okudah said. “Any time you can add big pieces on the defensive side through the draft, that’s always going to help out the back end.”
Connections to Glenn
Okudah and Glenn first met at the popular high school showcase, "The Opening." Okudah was a soon-to-be high school senior, and Glenn was the secondary coach at the event.
Okudah was on the same team as Patrick Surtain II, who was drafted No. 9 overall in 2021 by the Denver Broncos.
Okudah doesn’t have specific recollections of Glenn and his teaching, but noted that he learned a lot from the experience.
“It was a fun weekend,” Okudah said. “We learned a lot from him, and just to see everything come back full circle, to where he’s now my defensive coordinator, has me really excited to get to work.”
Okudah noted that his team won its first two games at The Opening, but proceeded to lose its next four contests, resulting in elimination.
The Nigerian Connection
Okudah, Oruwariye and Melifonwu are all Nigerian, as are defensive ends Romeo and Julian Okwara and defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike, who was drafted in the second round.
Okudah spoke on the connection of heritage between the different Lions defenders, noting that it brings them closer. He said that he reached out to both Onwuzurike and Melifonwu to connect.
“Since I’ve been playing football, I’ve never had this many Africans, Nigerians particularly, on the same team,” Okudah said. “I’ve been playing since I was in third grade. It’s kind of cool to see that.
Usually, I’ve always been the only African kid on the team. But, it’s cool to see how, years and years later, the game is starting to evolve and become more and more popular in Nigeria. And, I hope that this group here can inspire more kids to give the game a try.”