When Jeff Okudah got beat deep for a 43-yard catch by Diontae Johnson in last week’s preseason loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, it gave some Detroit Lions fans flashbacks of Okudah’s rough rookie season.
But Lions secondary coach Aubrey Pleasant said Monday he was happy with Okudah’s overall performance.
“Started a little slow, rebounded very well,” Pleasant said. “To me, it’s not about how you start, it’s about your finish. That’s why they’re in the preseason and that’s why you see our starters out there trying to get better.”
Okudah, the No. 3 pick in last year’s draft, has had a strong training camp to establish himself as the Lions’ No. 1 cornerback a season after he allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 77.4% of their passes in his coverage area.
He made three tackles against the Steelers and broke up a fade route to Juju Smith-Schuster in the end zone, but “got a little greedy with his eyes” on the big third-down pass play he allowed on Pittsburgh’s second drive.
“It was a condensed split, he kind of wanted to jump one route, but didn’t play what he saw,” Pleasant said. “I like it because he was thinking, but I don’t like it because I need discipline.”
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Pleasant said he does not fear giving up big pass plays like most coaches. He asks his cornerbacks to play with “controlled aggression,” and said the hardest thing for young defensive backs is “learning what to do and how to do it at the same time” — something Okudah still is working on.
“If you look at what he was asked to do at Ohio State, it was look at this guy, eliminate this guy, eliminate this guy only,” Pleasant said. “Don’t look anywhere else, don’t worry about any checks, don’t worry about any balances, don’t worry about anything. And now, it’s the NFL, it’s a different game. Sometimes you got to communicate, sometimes you got to get off. Sometimes people put you in splits where you can’t always press and you got to make sure you’re sharpening your tools in your toolshed so when you do, you’re able to use those.”
Tom Kennedy ranks in the top 10 in receptions (eight) and receiving yards (107) through two preseason games. More importantly, he’s made a favorable impression on his coach with his play.
“Do you like Tom? Do you like him a lot? I like Tom,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said Monday.
Kennedy is making a push to be the Lions’ No. 5 receiver this fall, ahead of free agent addition Breshad Perriman.
Because he is most effective as a slot receiver and because the Lions already have two smaller receivers ahead of him on the depth chart in Amon-Ra St. Brown and Kalif Raymond, Campbell said Kennedy will play an expanded role on special teams in this week’s preseason finale against the Indianapolis Colts.
Typically, NFL teams use their No. 4 and 5 receivers on their return and/or coverage units on game days. Kennedy has struggled on special teams in the past because of his size (5 feet 10, 195 pounds), and Raymond will be the Lions’ return man this fall.
“It would certainly, certainly help (his chances of making the team if had a special teams role),” Campbell said. “We were actually just talking about him (Sunday), ‘Is there another spot that we can get a look at him besides returner or some other things? Let’s see what we can do with him.’ That is where he would be just a tick limited, not for lack of effort or anything in that regard, but, ‘What do we do with him? Where do we put him where he can be an asset for us or at least help us in special teams?’ That’s something were going to hone in on this week.”