Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn wants Jeff Okudah giving his best, not trying to live up to being No. 3 pick
When you’re number 3 on draft and the first cornerback selected at the beginning of two decades, there are inherent expectations for high-level, instant production.
In that regard, Jeff Okudah failed to deliver during his rookie season with the Detroit Lions.
Not that he asks about them, but there are definitely some built-in excuses for the lackluster performance. The COVID-19 pandemic robbed Okudah of a traditional offseason program and preseason. That’s thousands of repetitions, lost forever. And an injury at training camp that lasted until the start of the regular season further limited his time on the practice field.
As soon as he started playing it was a trial by fire. He was pushed onto the grid due to an injury to starter Desmond Trufant and faced some of the league’s top receivers, including Davante Adams, Julio Jones and DeAndre Hopkins.
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Additionally, Okudah secretly had a groin injury that limited his ability to reach top speed, perhaps the most important tool in the set of a defensive back.
Overall, he allowed 76 percent of the passes in his direction for 579 yards and a touchdown. He also intercepted a pass before the team closed it to surgically fix the groin problem.
At the beginning of the second year, external expectations will not decrease. Fans still expect Okudah to be a star, a true lockdown cornerback.
But the new defense coordinator Aaron Glenn sees it a little differently. Don’t be confused, he also has lofty vision for Okudah’s potential, but he doesn’t want the young cornerback to put unnecessary pressure on himself.
“I think the first thing you hear about these people and a man like Okudah is, do the best you can be good enough for us,” said Glenn. “Don’t try to live up to the third choice in the draft. We don’t need you to do that. We just need you to be the best Okudah you can be, and that will be good enough for us. “
Glenn was in those shoes. In 1994 he was selected in the first round (No. 12 overall) by the New York Jets. He took his early career lumps, but by third year he was an all-pro, an honor he had earned three times during his 15-year career.
Glenn, along with defensive back coach and pass coordinator Aubrey Pleasant, will be tasked with getting not only Okudah’s trajectory back on track, but also secondary education as a whole after the group allowed the league’s worst pass rating of 112.4 in 2020 would have.
Coming from the Los Angles Rams, Pleasant has never worked with Glenn. There is not even an obvious overlap with the employees, but philosophically and schematically there is a clear network.
“I’ll say this: We come from the same tree as far as defense is concerned,” said Glenn. “The only thing I learned as a puppy, and Bill Parcells taught me, is that you’re trying to surround yourself with the same tribe. We’re of the same tribe in reporting. That drew me to AP when I was part of the Vic (Fangio) system for a while, I even played for Vic when I was with the Texans.
“Again, many of these coaches you will see who are with me are from the same tribe. Again, I learned it from Bill Parcells back then, and I have never strayed from this thought process.”
Shared collateral suggests a higher dose of cover-2 and cover-4 coverage looks. These won’t be new to Okudah, but they were used sparingly by the Lions both last season and when he was in college playing frugally for the state of Ohio.
If done correctly, it should make it more difficult for opponents to hit the Lions deeply. This is a good place to start a turnaround.
“I look forward to getting my hands on these young people,” said Glenn. “When you have guys this age you can shape them and train them exactly how you want. Again, it reminded me of my first few years in New Orleans when I got the guys we had.
“… We are confident that these guys will come out and understand exactly what we are doing and that they can get to the level they need to perform.”