The Detroit Lions just must be cursed.
How else can you explain the ruptured Achilles tendon that ended cornerback Jeff Okudah’s season after 48 snaps?
How can it be that such a studious, hard-working, dedicated player suffered a notoriously problematic injury that also might end his career?
How can a player who drew raves in training camp for his new Zen-like approach that had a teammate calling him a transformed player and that the Lions were counting on to make a huge stride in his second NFL season won’t be part of the rebuild effort this year and possibly next?
I used to think the curse of Bobby Layne was a funny story. Humorous hokum that conveniently explained away the Lions’ organizational ineptitude.
A few years ago, I spoke with some Lions legends from the 1957 championship team like Joe Schmidt, Roger Zatkoff and Dorne Dibble. They all agreed, Layne’s curse was real.
But it was supposed to expire in 2008, after 50 years. Layne died in 1986, but somehow the ol’ Blond Bomber has found a way to keep hitting the refresh button while tying one on in the afterlife from that Lindell AC in the sky.
I somehow doubt that even Layne is this vindictive. Laying a curse on a team to keep it from winning a championship is one thing. Scuttling a kid’s career is dang near sadistic.
I had great hopes for Okudah this season, because cornerbacks typically have a steep learning curve but sometimes take off in Year 2. Darrelle Revis went from three interceptions to five and made his first Pro Bowl his second year. Richard Sherman started 10 games as a rookie, then started every game and made eight picks his second year as an All-Pro. Even Darius Slay went from struggling through four starts as a rookie to starting every game and making two interceptions his second year.
Lions coach Dan Campbell was understandably glum Monday when he confirmed Okudah would be out for the year and faces a long road of rehab.
“Look, I hate it for him first and I hate it for us as a team because he was really coming around,” Campbell said. “That’s one of those things that we’ve got to adapt to, and it is what it is and now we’ve got to move on.”
Campbell then leaned on the old “next man up” cliché because that’s all he has left with a young, thin cornerback corps that just got a lot thinner.
But meaningless aphorisms aren’t going to help Campbell stop Aaron Rodgers and Lamar Jackson the next two weeks. He’s trying to rally the troops, but the troops are dropping by the minute. Taylor Decker is on injured reserve after having finger surgery and top receiver Tyrell Williams is in concussion protocol.
Missing Okudah and Decker especially hurts because their absence stunts the growth of this team. They’re considered foundational pieces around which Campbell and Brad Holmes hope to realize their vision. Instead, with Okudah facing a very uncertain future, the Lions must immediately prepare a draft strategy for his replacement.
On a personal level, Okudah’s injury and the impact it has on the secondary bothers me tremendously. Do you know how hard it is for a sports writer to come up with a different way to ask defensive backs “why do you stink?” week after week, year after year?
Here’s a pop quiz: How many times have the Lions ranked in the top 10 in pass defense over the past 20 years? Take your time. I’ll wait.
In 2018 Slay, Glover Quin and Quandre Diggs led the Lions’ secondary and the pass defense finished eighth. You have to go back to 1998 and the days of Ron Rice, Bryant Westbrook and Mark Carrier to find the next top-10 finish by the Lions’ pass defense.
So yes, the Lions’ defensive backfield has gone through quite a dry spell during most of our lifetimes. I hoped Okudah would help change that the way Slay did. I liked Okudah’s chances with Aubrey Pleasant, an exuberant position coach with degrees in sociology and education, and a former Pro Bowl cornerback for a defensive coordinator in Aaron Glenn.
Instead, Okudah could be joining the legions of the Lions’ other failed high draft picks who have been similarly cursed in recent years. Unfortunate injuries have played a part, as well as poor evaluations in keeping the revolving door spinning: Jahvid Best, Titus Young, Eric Ebron, Laken Tomlinson, Jarrad Davis, Teez Tabor, Kerryon Johnson, Jahlani Tavai.
Missing on so many players who should have helped drag this franchise back to respectability is a big reason the Lions are where they are, in constant search of an answer. New coaches, new general managers, new players, new ideas.
Maybe someday someone will figure out how to lift this franchise. But they’ll probably have learn how to lift a curse before that happens.
Contact Carlos Monarrez at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.