Why Detroit Lions’ Jeff Okudah will be rare rookie cornerback to shine

Detroit Free Press

First game, first play.

That’s how long it took Desmond Trufant to learn playing cornerback in the NFL was “a different game” than college.

“So we were scrimmaging the Bengals in (joint) practice,” Trufant said Thursday. “I was talking to (Jermaine Gresham), talking back and forth in practice. I’m just a rookie, and then in the (preseason) game he caught a little pass in the flat and I came up to try to tackle him and he pretty much just ran me over out of bounds. He was just talking crazy, but I remember I was seeing colors. My bell was rung for sure, so I knew, OK. Like, I knew what time it was after that.”

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Trufant went on to have a stellar rookie season for the Atlanta Falcons, starting 16 games and intercepting two passes.

His experience was the exception to the rule that young cornerbacks struggle out of the gate, and his new team, the Detroit Lions, are hoping their own rookie, No. 3 overall pick Jeff Okudah, will make a similarly quick transition this fall.

“Honestly, I think he has what it takes,” said Trufant, who signed a two-year free agent deal with the Lions this spring. “I can just tell, he’s fundamentally sound. That’s big coming to the NFL from college, just continue to do your fundamentals every play, whether you’re tired, no matter what the situation is. Can he continuously do that. I can already tell he’s a technician and he just works hard, too. He’s always asking questions. I’m excited to play with him and see how this thing goes.”

[ Jeff Okudah plays like a made-up Madden video game character. Now Lions are counting on him ]

The Lions are two practices and nearly two weeks of strength and conditioning workouts into training camp, so no one knows for sure how quick a study Okudah will be.

But a constant refrain dating back to the offseason is that Okudah asks probing and intelligent questions in meetings, and that should help him adjust to the NFL.

“He’s always asking me questions about stuff, asking me questions about how the room worked over in New England,” safety Duron Harmon said. “A guy that’s just trying to learn.”

Trufant and Okudah likely will start at the outside cornerback spots for the Lions this fall, with Justin Coleman in the slot and Harmon and Tracy Walker at safety.

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Trufant said Okudah will have a steeper learning curve than he had coming out of Washington in 2013 because of the coronavirus pandemic, which forced teams to have entirely virtual offseasons.

“It’s definitely a different environment, different time,” he said. “We didn’t have a full offseason program to get all the reps in, to get the playbook. I mean, we still did things virtual, so he still got some of that, but it’s still nothing like taking those reps physically.”

As a cornerback, though, Trufant said Okudah should be used to adversity and quick to adjust.

[ Desmond Trufant wanted to be like his brothers, now he’s better than them ]

“I got welcomed to the NFL quick and there’s really no time to slack out there at corner cause y’all know how it goes,” Trufant said. “You’re the man one play and the next play they’re talking about you. So you just got to stay even-keeled. And it’s a marathon at the end of the day. This position, at some point somebody’s going to make a play on you, but how do you react to that? Are you going to come back and make another play, or are you going to let it just continue to roll? So I think that’s the biggest thing that you got to learn transitioning to this league.”


Two days after the NFL lifted its prohibition on tryouts, the Lions welcomed seven players for a workout Thursday. Among the free agents in Allen Park: running backs Jonathan Williams, Troymaine Pope and C.J. Prosise, who played for offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell with the Seattle Seahawks.

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Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. Read more on the Detroit Lions and sign up for our Lions newsletter.

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