‘Definitely a year of growth’: Lions’ Jeff Okudah deals with disappointment, dysfunction

Detroit News

Justin Rogers
 
| The Detroit News

Prior to being drafted by the Detroit Lions, you could say Jeff Okduah was spoiled by success.

A five-star recruit out of high school, he experienced just four losses during his three seasons playing at Ohio State, all while developing into one of the nation’s premier NFL prospects. 

So 2020 was a wake-up call. Okudah struggled with the transition, the Lions hit four losses through seven games. To top it off, the coach and general manager who believed in him enough to take him earlier in the draft than any cornerback in more two decades were fired with five games remaining

“I think 2020 was definitely a year of growth,” Okudah said. “Really, since I’ve been playing football, just my most adverse year with everything I had to go through — us, me myself and us as a team.

“…I think that for me it was really hard to come to the terms that just not playing to the standard of the city of Detroit and what they expect to see out there,” he continued. “I think going forward, definitely have that on my mind and definitely something that is really going to fuel my hunger this offseason. Not necessarily trying to prove everyone wrong, just trying to prove a lot of people right.”

Comparing his rookie-year experience to his time at Ohio State, Okudah not only noted he wasn’t used to losing to this degree, but also wasn’t accustomed to dealing with dysfunction. 

“You kind of get a little fantasy bubble popped, and now you’re real world, so now it’s how do you respond when you’re not always on top when you’re the underdog,” he said. 

Dysfunction is a strong word, but maybe one that’s appropriate for a defense that gave up the most yards and points in franchise history. Asked to elaborate on what he meant by the description, Okudah said it showed up in many aspects, from personality to scheme to transparency between members of the organization. 

“This is a grown man’s league,” he said. “Even though I’m a rookie, I think it’s pretty clear to see that it’s a grown man’s league. I think that’s something that players always appreciate, as well as coaches and front office, is transparency (and) no hidden agendas. Just everyone being transparent the whole time, and I think that when you have an organization that’s run on that premise, I think that you have a solid organization.”

As for Okudah’s groin injury, which he battled throughout the season, before shutting it down in December and undergoing surgery, he didn’t want to use it as an excuse for his subpar play this season. Still, he did acknowledge it hindered his ability to run at top speed, one of the more noticeable issues with his performance this season. 

“I think moving laterally was pretty, it was fine,” Okudah said. “But opening out and just running top speed, kinda hampered a little bit from doing that. Obviously, like I said, the main point was just not wanting to make excuses, so I think that whatever issues I was having, as far as receivers being able to create explosive plays, I need to first and foremost go back and look at the film and see what I could do from a technical standpoint. Once you address that, I think you just go from there.”

Regarding treatment and surgery, Okudah said he felt there was a lack of a concrete plan earlier in the year. But now that it’s completed, he’s healing well and expects to be a full participant in the offseason program. 

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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