Jeff Okudah faced a number of talented quarterbacks in college, including his former teammate and 2019 first-round pick Dwayne Haskins every day in practice. None of them were in the same universe as Matthew Stafford.
Maybe that's why Okudah had a bit of a rocky start to training camp. And maybe that's why he began to look better as the week went on.
"It’s pretty fun having a chance to go against a QB like Matt Stafford," Okudah said Friday after the Lions' fourth padded practice of camp. "He’s been in the league and proven himself for a long period of time. Me and Amani (Oruwariye) are always talking about ways that we can get better going against him. He’s putting the ball in really amazing spots.
"Sometimes it’s like a competition, but I’m also in awe of the throws that he’s able to make."
The Lions expect Okudah, the third overall pick, to bolster their defense right away. Stafford reminded us this week that it's no guarantee. He had the rookie spinning a few times in coverage, once twisting him into the ground before hooking up on a deep ball with Kenny Golladay.
"He can make any throw. And with him, he’s able to throw the ball based off where your positioning is on the receiver, and not a lot of quarterbacks have that ability," Okudah said. "For him to do that just shows why he’s special and why he’s considered a great player in the league."
But Okudah's nothing if not a student of the game. He adjusted as the week went along and picked off Stafford Friday on a deep ball intended for Marvin Jones. Well, kind of.
"The pick was on a free play," Stafford said with a smile, in case anyone's keeping score. "It was a five yards offside on the defense, so I threw one up. But I’m glad he made the play. That’s good for our team that he’s making plays down the field. Like I said, that’s just an example of his ball skills."
It wasn't Okudah's only highlight on Friday. He also got one back on Golladay.
"He undercut another ball today and made a pass breakup on Kenny on an in-route that was really impressive, too," Stafford said. "He’s done some nice stuff, so I’m happy for him."
As Stafford and his top two receivers have attacked Okudah early on, so have they helped him along. Golladay and Jones have told him to come to the front of the line in 1-on-1's to get some work against the kind of playmakers he'll be tasked with covering this fall. If the rookie is ready to go in Week 1, the vets know how much the team will benefit.
"He’s talking to Marv, he’s talking to Kenny, he’s talking to me, he’s trying to figure out what he can do better," Stafford said. "He’s a sponge, man. He’s trying to learn and understand that this game is different than the game he was playing six months ago in college.
"He’s a smart kid, athletic, got a bunch of skills and we’re going to do everything we can to get him up to speed as quickly as possible."
Stafford's right: Okudah has skills galore. If he showed his hands against Jones and his vision against Golladay -- and in both instances his length -- he flashed his speed earlier this week when he ran step for step with Marvin Hall on a go route. Hall blew past countless corners last season. He never had a inch on Okudah.
"I've seen a lot of corners come in, first couple days just trying to figure out speed of the game, the physicality of the game, get their feet underneath them. I think that was the case for him and a lot of our rookies, but he’s done a nice job progressing," Stafford said. "He’s a long guy, can really run, impressive the way he goes to work every day.
"He’s doing a nice job out on the practice field. He’s competing at a high level, giving it everything he’s got, and really that’s all you can ask for."
Time will tell if Okudah is ready to fill the Lions' lofty expectations out of the gate. At this point, it's a lot to ask. The season is less than a month away and he's only had a few days of live reps. That's a large gap to close in a short period of time.
But that's what good corners do, as Okudah proved Friday against Golladay and then again against Jones.
"It build a lot of confidence just to be able to see that you can make plays at the next level, especially against guys like Marvin Jones, a great receiver," he said, "Every day I just look forward to going against him and Kenny and just competing."