While at least one prominent NFL analyst was critical of Detroit Lions secondary coach Aubrey Pleasant’s treatment of second-year cornerback Jeff Okudah on the sideline of last week’s loss to the San Francisco 49ers, two of Okudah’s teammates said the confrontation is a non-issue for players in the locker room.
“I’m going to make it real clear,” cornerback Amani Oruwariye said Wednesday. “Everyone has particular relationships with Coach Pleasant. He’s came here and really challenged everyone because he sees the potential in everyone and he really wants to just light that flair under every single guy. And he has different relationships, different ways of going about that with everyone. But at the end of the day, it’s two guys just wanting to be great.”
Fox television cameras captured Pleasant in a heated exchange with Okudah on the Lions sideline after Elijah Mitchell’s 38-yard touchdown run early in Sunday’s second quarter.
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Pleasant pointed his finger at Okudah’s chest and repeatedly yelled, “Do your job,” as he held a tablet in his left arm.
Lions safety Tracy Walker came over to quell the confrontation, and linebacker Alex Anzalone stepped in front of Pleasant as Okudah sat on the bench.
NFL Network analyst Steve Smith said in a conference call Tuesday that exchange calls into question the Lions’ claims of having a new player-friendly culture under first-year coach Dan Campbell, and later told the Free Press the encounter “is not what football is about.”
“We need to stop upping our standards for players and lowering our standards for coaches,” Smith said in his video conference. “We need to have them on the same playing field. We need to start revoking some of these dumb-ass coaches’ opportunities because that shit show they got in Detroit, it’s a train wreck waiting to happen and I’m sitting there, got my popcorn waiting for it.”
Rookie cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu, who is expected to start Monday’s game against the Green Bay Packers in place of Okudah, who tore his Achilles tendon against the 49ers, said Pleasant addressed the confrontation with Lions defensive backs but said, “I think that’s something we just got to keep in house.”
Melifonwu called Pleasant “a really good coach” and said his exchange with Okudah was well-meant. After the shouting incident, TV cameras caught Pleasant in another more nurturing moment, pulling Okudah’s head close to his after Okudah got beat for a long touchdown pass.
“It’s tough love sometimes, but you know it’s coming from a good place,” Melifonwu said. “It’s not anything ego or anything, he just wants us to be great.”
Oruwariye, in his third NFL season, also praised Pleasant as a coach, saying the Flint native has made him a better player.
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“He’s challenged me in ways that I haven’t had in the past with film study, with my technique,” Oruwariye said. “Me being longer, maybe not as shifty as some of the smaller guys, but challenging me to work my footwork, work my technique and I can do the same things as some of the smaller guys can do, but still with my length. He’s challenged me in so many different ways mentally and it’s been great so far. I can’t wait to keep going.”
That feeling, Oruwariye said, is shared by others in the locker room
“At the end of the day, we have great relationships with Coach Pleasant and of course social media can make things be portrayed in a different way, but that’s really what it is,” he said. “Everyone has a great relationship with Coach Pleasant, everyone’s trying to win and that’s what it comes down to.”
Contact Dave Birkett at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.