It's been a long 11 months for Detroit Lions third-year cornerback Jeff Okudah as he's diligently rehabbed an Achilles injury suffered Week 1 of last year that wiped out his entire 2021 season. So it was good to see the former No. 3 overall pick taking part in Detroit's first training camp practice of the season Wednesday in Allen Park.
Okudah didn't start the year on any designation list, and head coach Dan Campbell said Wednesday he's not on any restrictions.
"He's ready to go, I mean he looks good," Campbell said.
Okudah said it's a blessing knowing where he was at just under a year ago and what it took to get to this point to be ready to compete Day 1 of camp.
"First time competing in about 11 months," Okudah said after Wednesday's practice. "So, just getting out here was a really, really big accolade for me personally."
View photos from Day 1 of Detroit Lions training camp on Wednesday July 27, 2022.
Okudah said it was one of his early goals in the rehab process to be on the field to start camp.
Last year's injury was devastating for Okudah and the Lions because he had such a great camp and was going to be a big part of Detroit's plans on defense. That still seems to be case heading into this season, as Okudah got first-team reps opposite Amani Oruwariye during practice Wednesday.
With everything Okudah has gone through his first two seasons, including a core muscle injury that cost him six games as a rookie, he thinks it's made him mentally tough and ready to take a big step forward. He also said he's not worried about trying to live up to outside expectations.
"For me, honestly, I'm not really concerned about showing people," he said. "Showing myself. That my abilities are what I think they are. Showing the people that believed in me throughout this whole process that I won't let them down."
POSITION GROUP TO WATCH
Campbell was asked Wednesday where he thought this team took a big step forward. He cautioned that he wanted to see his team in pads before making any big disclosures, but he quickly pivoted to talking about one position group in particular where the Lions spent a lot of resources trying to build up this offseason.
"I would say the receiver position, certainly, I feel pretty good about the development in that room with those guys," Campbell said. "That would probably be the first thing I'd think of."
With the additions of DJ Chark via free agency and Jameson Williams in the draft (No. 12 overall pick), plus the re-signing of Josh Reynolds and Kalif Raymond and the expectation that Amon-Ra St. Brown will be even better in year two, it's easy to see why receiver jumps out to Campbell.
It's commonly known across the league that the biggest jump players make in their early development is from their first to second seasons. The Lions are getting some national love as one of the teams that could make a big leap in the win column in the second year under GM Brad Holmes and Campbell.
For that to happen, Campbell knows some of the second-year players, who have already become young core pieces to this rebuild, have to take that big leap.
"Yeah, I mean we're counting on it, we've got to have it," he said. "I mean if they don't make a jump, we're in trouble. That's the bottom line because those guys are kind of our core and our foundation. I mean (Amon-Ra) St. Brown's got to be better, (Penei) Sewell's got to be better, Levi's (Onwuzurike) got to be better, (Alim McNeill) Mac's got to be better, (Derrick) Barnes has got to be better because if they're not, we're not going to go anywhere. So, we're looking forward to it and we're going to push them to be there and get there."
"Our expectations are as high as anyone in the building," quarterback Jared Goff said after practice Wednesday. "How do we win our division and compete for a championship and the playoffs?
"I know it's something that hasn't been done around here in a long time, but I think we're at the point where there's such new blood here and such new energy that you can kind of move past that in some ways and start fresh in your mind of, 'We can do this thing and there's no reason why we can't.'"