A lot of attention has been paid to Jeff Okudah during Lions' training camp, mostly for the right reasons. The former No. 3 pick looks poised to become Detroit's No. 1 corner this season. But the scrutiny on Okudah has risen after he misread a route and allowed a long completion down the middle of the field in the Lions' preseason loss to the Steelers last weekend.
"That surprises me," defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said Tuesday. "This is the NFL -- he’s going to give up a play. He’s a good player, he’s been practicing hard. His eyes were bad and he gave up a play, but there’s been a lot of plays he has made. At some point we gotta talk about those plays he has made, instead of the one he didn’t make. All good?"
All good. And Okudah was all good after allowing that 43-yard completion to Diontae Johnson, Pittsburgh's leading receiver last season, on the Steelers' second drive of the game. Echoing Glenn, Okudah said he "just didn’t play with good discipline and good eyes," trying to jump Johnson's route for an interception when Johnson was always going deep.
"And in the NFL, the talent is just too big to put the defense in position like that. So I came back to the sideline and took full responsibility for it," Okudah said. "The good thing is, it’s the preseason. It’s something that I can really learn from and I think I’ll be a better player because of that."
When Okudah and Glenn talked it over, Okudah said Glenn "wasn't mad." Disappointed, sure, but "he’s like, 'I’m glad it happened now because I want you to see how big the attention to detail has to be just to not allow those kind of plays to happen.'" Okudah said he's still learning the balance of aggressiveness and patience in the NFL and likened the mistake against Johnson to "telling your kid not to put their hand on the stove, and they do and get burnt."
"That was one of those moments where I felt like it was really self-inflicted," Okudah said.
He made up for his mistake by breaking up a third-down pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster with a diving play in the end zone later in the first half. This was more like the corner Okudah's been throughout camp.
"In the red zone they teach us to play through the hands, because when you look back sometimes that ball is coming out so much faster in the open field so it can be (going to) a lot of different locations," Okudah said. "Really playing through the hands is your best bet if you’re not in what they call dominant position."
Okudah got to Smith-Schuster's hands at the last second to negate the potential touchdown. He said he also keyed on the eyes "because the eyes tell the whole story. When the ball's coming, receivers’ eyes tend to get a little bit bigger."
Okudah hopes and feels like big things are ahead this season. He's fully healthy after battling injuries for most of his rookie season, and he was 'burnt out' before the season even began. If it was a doomed marriage between Okudah and the former coaching staff in Detroit, Okudah says he and new defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant "are a match made in heaven."
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"I feel good, I think I have a lot of confidence going into year two," Okudah said. "Up to this point I’ve taken a lot of reps, I’ve been able to see a lot of different things. And just being around, the whole energy in Detroit has been really great for me. It’s been really uplifting."
Asked is he feels like a 'new dude,' the 22-year-old said he feels more like the unanimous All-American from Ohio State.
"I wouldn’t say it’s a new dude," he said. "I would say it’s just getting back to my old self."
And as he showed against the Steelers, learning to turn the page when necessary.
"It's something that AP and AG are always harping on, just having a short memory," Okudah said. "There’s a lot of great players in the NFL, so just having a short memory, not taking everything so personal and being ready to make the next play when it’s available to you."
Okudah has plenty more coming his way.