Okudah, a few days earlier, sat on the padded chair in front of his locker with his iPad on his lap.
He lounged last week in one of the five leather recliners in the middle of the locker room, engrossed in his tablet as music blared around him and two of his teammates played ping pong a few feet away.
Everywhere Okudah goes these days it seems he has his iPad with him, studying an assortment of film — his own, the receivers he’s about to face and other interesting receiver-cornerback matchups from across the NFL — as he tries to make up for time lost to injuries the past two seasons.
“I think like the reality is, I mean, I haven’t got the same amount of reps as like the normal three-year player so I have a lot to catch up in the film room and in the mental part of the game that you just get when you get on the field,” Okudah said. “So I’m trying to burn the midnight oil, as they say, put in the extra work.”
Two games into his third NFL season, Okudah appears to be reaping the rewards from all the extra work he has put in since tearing his Achilles tendon last September.
Lions coach Dan Campbell said “there is nothing physically” Okudah appears to have lost after suffering one of the most grueling injuries in sport, and on the field the No. 3 pick of the 2020 NFL draft is trending up.
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He’ has allowed six completions in 12 targets this season for 60 yards, according to Pro Football Reference. His passer rating against (64.6) is about half of what his career rate was entering the season (128.3). He is tied for second on the team with 15 tackles.
And he said his renewed devotion to film study — and more importantly, having a greater understanding of what he’s watching — is a big reason why.
“Honestly, I’m watching it like it’s a Netflix show, that’s the best way I can put it,” Okudah said. “When I’m at home I’m watching it. When I’m in the car I’m watching it. Watching it all the time, just trying to pick up little things and I know that like the more I play, the more all the stuff that I’m watching will tie in together.”
Okudah, who will be a key part of the Lions’ coverage on Minnesota Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson when the two teams meet in a battle of 1-1 NFC North teams Sunday, said he spent one morning this week watching film from his rookie season, including the Lions’ first loss to the Vikings.
Okudah covered Jefferson some that game — he was on injured reserve following groin surgery for the second meeting that year — and was searching for “little details” to help his preparation this week.
As he studied Jefferson, he saw someone he barely recognized: himself as a player.
“Sometimes I go back and watch my rookie stuff in practice, games, and I just feel like mentally I’m at a different place,” Okudah said. “It’s pretty cool to see the growth, like what happens when you put your head down and work.”
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As a rookie, Okudah felt something like a goldfish in the ocean, swimming aimlessly with too much water around him. When he covered receivers, he tried to play “everything” and did not know enough to eliminate the routes they could run.
Now, Okudah has a better understanding of route concepts and what offenses want to accomplish in certain situations. That has helped simplify the game, and has given him less to focus on when on the field.
“I didn’t have him as a rookie but I will say this: Just looking at him from training camp last year going to this year, his habits as far as becoming a pro has really improved,” Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said. “And they have to improve because you just don’t know until you get into the league and then you start to learn off other people, then you still have coaches starting to teach you. So obviously that’s going to happen.
“But to the magnitude as far as, man, he’s diving into it every day, as hard as he can. You see those things starting to help him and he’s starting to really lean on Amani (Oruwariye, who has) been around for a while. He’s starting to lean on me, (secondary coach Aubrey Pleasant), (safeties coach) Brian Duker as far as tips. And the thing that’s good is he’s trusting those tips and he’s putting them to work. That’s the thing about watching film. You’re going to watch film all you want but do you trust what you see? That’s one thing he’s doing a good job of.”
By trusting what he is seeing on film, Okudah has given his coaches more reason to trust him.
Campbell said there is “nothing that would lead us to believe that he’s not going to continue to trend” up with his play. And after playing just 10 games his first two seasons, Okudah said it is “pretty encouraging” to see himself on film now.
“I think that there’s definitely things I can build up on, but I would say for me, if I’m just being real with myself, I think that I’ve gotten better from the first day I stepped out here at training camp so that’s all you can ask for at the end of the day,” Okudah said. “So hopefully I can continue on that pace.”