For his first NFL assignment, Jeff Okudah covered Davante Adams. DeAndre Hopkins came second. And Michael Thomas could be third. How's that for an initiation?
But in the rookie's line of early battles, the next one will be with himself.
As evidenced in Detroit's win over the Cardinals Sunday, Okudah needs to ramp up his conditioning to stay on the field. He twice tapped out of the action due to exhaustion, the second time gasping for air on the Cardinals' sideline as Arizona's trainers signaled for help.
“I was pretty exhausted,” Okudah admitted afterward, via the Free Press. “This is a high-octane offense. I just needed (a break), honestly.”
Okudah got some oxygen on Detroit's bench and returned to the field shortly thereafter. He wound up playing all but six of the Lions' defensive snaps. But his fatigue was a good reminder of the difference in pace between college football and the NFL.
The first time Okudah pulled himself from the game, Matt Patricia was visibly upset. He acknowledged Monday that Okudah has some work to do in the fitness department.
“It’s obviously a hot place to play out (there) and the tempo and all the rest of it play into that. Certainly in his second game, he just has to settle down and keep working on his conditioning to get back out there and be out there when needed," Patricia said. "But I thought he battled through all that stuff fine."
It was otherwise an encouraging day for Okudah. While he certainly wasn't perfect, he notched his first career pick on a pass intended for Hopkins and added two tackles for loss. It was a bounceback performance after he was badly exposed in his NFL debut.
“I was tired of being disrespected by everyone,” Okudah said. “I think the whole defense was tired of being disrespected — the whole team was tired of being disrespected.”
Okudah's role could be scaled back in the weeks ahead, with Detroit's No. 1 corner Desmond Trufant nearing a return from his hamstring injury. But the lessons he's learned over the past two games will serve him well moving forward.
“For me, it’s been a learning experience," Okudah said. "Obviously, going against some of the top receivers in the game. My first game was against Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams, so I think that to get thrown into the fire, that’s kind of the way that I like it because I’m able to kind of adapt on the fly (to) the challenges that maybe other guys don’t see a lot.
"So it’s something that I’ve been embracing and I’ve been approaching with a lot of humility.”