With murderers’ row of receivers to start season, will Lions CB Jeff Okudah be ready Week 1?

Detroit Free Press

The Chicago Bears won’t say who will be throwing passes for them when they open the regular season Sept. 13 against the Detroit Lions, and the Lions won’t say who will be trying to pick those passes off.

Lions defensive coordinator Cory Undlin said Sunday no decision has been made yet on who will start at cornerback in Week 1: rookie No. 3 overall pick Jeff Okudah or second-year pro Amani Oruwariye.

“I’m not making any assumptions on what we’re going to do in two weeks,” Undlin said.

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The Lions opened training camp with Oruwariye and veteran Desmond Trufant at the outside cornerback positions and Justin Coleman in the slot.

Trufant and Coleman appeared locked into starting jobs, while Okudah and Oruwariye are vying for the other outside role.

Oruwariye played sparingly as a rookie, intercepting two passes in nine games, and Undlin said “he’s more than ready” to play if called upon against the Bears.

More: The Lions loaded up on CBs this offseason, but a late-round pick is making charge for starting spot

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“I’m very happy with him and he’s played very well,” Undlin said. “He’s not played perfect. If you guys were out there (at Saturday’s scrimmage), I mean, two balls down there in the red zone, great contested by him, two great throws by the quarterback and then great catches by both those wideouts. But very pleased with where he’s at. He’s going to help us.”

Okudah has taken an increasing number of first-team reps over the last week, both at left cornerback opposite Oruwariye and at right cornerback with Trufant on the field. 

He has experienced some significant growing pains, such as when he repeatedly had issues in a two-man route drill in Thursday’s practice. But he’s also the Lions’ most talented defensive back and someone the team was counting on to play big minutes when it made him the highest-drafted cornerback in 23 years.

“(I’ve seen) steady progress,” Undlin said. “I mean, he is a rookie and he missed a couple practices there early in camp. I mean, he’s really been on the grass seven times, so for me, myself, I got to keep the perspective to where it should be and that without OTAs. And I know you can meet on Zoom, and we spent all that time on Zoom calls in the spring, it’s not the same. I mean, when it starts and it’s live and people are running around, there’s an adjustment that’s got to take place.”

Undlin said Okudah is in the this-isn’t-college phase of his adjustment, where he’s learning that he needs proper technique, eye discipline, focus and detail to compete against NFL wide receivers on every play.

Normally, Undlin said, that adjustment would have taken place in spring Organized Team Activities and minicamp, which Okudah did not have the benefit of this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Instead, he’s learning by fire against Lions receivers Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones, which should help him prepare for the murderers’ row of receivers the Lions are scheduled to face early in the year.

The Lions face four of last year’s top six pass catchers — the Bears’ Allen Robinson, the Arizona Cardinals’ DeAndre Hopkins, the Atlanta Falcons’ Julio Jones and the New Orleans Saints’ Michael Thomas — in their first six games of the regular season, and have a Week 2 matchup against Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams and the Green Bay Packers.

“He is on a steady incline, which is all we can ask,” Undlin said. “That’s all we can ask from any of our players. Vets, rookies, whatever, so I like the direction he’s heading in. We’re not there yet. I don’t think any of us are there yet. You can ask any players. We still got two weeks left to clean it all up and get ready for that first game. But not disappointed in the work he’s been doing and where he’s going. Still got a long way to go.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Lions content. 

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