Desmond Trufant has walked, not backpedaled, in Jeff Okudah’s shoes.
Trufant knows the pressures that come with being a first-round draft pick. He understands the challenges of having to start right away. But while the majority of cornerbacks stumble out the blocks at the start of their professional careers, Trufant bucked conventional wisdom, holding his own in coverage, snagging a pair of interceptions and breaking up 17 throws as a rookie.
Trufant and Okudah are both new to Detroit. The Lions added the veteran via free agency in March, a month before selecting the Ohio State standout with the No. 3 pick in the draft. They’re expected to be the starting tandem when the team opens the season against Chicago in a month.
And so despite an abbreviated offseason, the Lions are left to hope Okudah can have a similarly smooth transition as Trufant did with the Atlanta Falcons in 2013. Of course, it’s going to be difficult to make up those practice and preseason reps forever lost to changes necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s definitely a different environment, a different time,” Trufant said during a video conference with reporters on Thursday. “We didn’t have the full offseason program to get our reps in, to get the playbook (down). We still did things virtual, so we still got some of that, but there’s nothing like taking those reps physically.
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“But that’s why we’re in this position,” Trufant said. “We’re built to adapt. We’re built for any circumstance, any situation, we just have got to prevail through (it). He’ll be all right. We just have to keep working.”
After months of Zoom meetings, Trufant and Okudah reported for training camp with their teammates at the end of July. Still, it won’t be until next week that they’ll share the practice field for the first time. But from what Trufant has seen so far, he’s been impressed.
“I mean honestly, I think he has what it takes,” Trufant said. “I can just tell he’s fundamentally sound. You know, that’s big coming to the NFL from college. Can you do your fundamentals every play? Whether you’re tired, no matter what the situation is, can you continuously do that? I can already tell he’s a technician. He just works hard, too, and he’s always asking questions. I’m excited to play with him and see how these things go.”
As for the biggest piece of advance Trufant would pass along from his experiences to help Okudah find his stride quickly, he’d tell the rookie to establish a routine as quickly as possible.
“Figure out how you’re going to study, how you’re going to rehab, just those everyday routines that all of us vets have,” Trufant said. “And stick to it. If something is working for you, stick to it. At the corner position, there’s a lot of pressure on your shoulders. I would just tell him, you create your own pressure out there. However you feel, however you react to every situation, it’s on you, good or bad. Just stay even-keeled. You’re not going to make every play, but you’re going to make a lot of plays, as well. That’s pretty much what I would tell him.”
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