Cornerback Jeff Okudah had an up-and-down rookie season. He played in nine games (six starts) with 47 tackles, four tackles for loss, one interception and two defended passes.
The athletic traits that made Okudah the No. 3 overall pick showed up enough times to think he can be a special player, if he stays healthy and gets coached up.
Lions head coach Dan Campbell hired Aaron Glenn to be his new defensive coordinator. Glenn comes to Detroit after spending the last five years as New Orleans' secondary coach. Glenn inherited a young and underperforming secondary in New Orleans and was able to turn it into a middle-of-the pack unit in his second season and one of the top units in the league this past year.
Glenn said he's excited to get the opportunity to do the same thing in Detroit.
Cornerback Marshon Lattimore was the Saints' first-round pick in Glenn's second season coaching the secondary in 2017, and he helped Lattimore become the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and a three-time Pro Bowler. There's no guarantee he'll be able get that kind of play out of Okudah, but he's excited for the opportunity.
Glenn said his message to Okudah will be to let his best be good enough.
"Don't try to live up to be the third pick in the draft," Glenn said. "We don't need you to do that. We just need you to be the best Okudah you can be, and that'll be good enough for us."
Okudah said after the season it was hard for him to come to terms with not playing to the standards of the City of Detroit and what they expect to see out there.
He allowed 38 completions on 50 attempts (76 percent completion percentage) for 579 yards and a score in his coverage area. Opposing passers had a 112.0 passer rating when throwing at Okudah in 2020.
A core muscle injury that ended Okudah's season prematurely and required surgery in December, limited his ability to turn his hips and transition to full speed.
"I think going forward, definitely have that on my mind and definitely something that's really going to fuel my hunger this offseason," Okudah said of his inconsistent 2020 debut. "Not necessarily trying to prove everyone wrong, just trying to prove a lot of people right."
Glenn wants to promote an environment of competition and accountability within Detroit's defense, where every player knows there's someone behind him gunning for his job.
He also plans to simplify the defense to a point where a player like Okudah's true athletic talents can take over.
"If your job is to go cover this guy, you cover this guy and don't let him catch it," Glenn said. "Now it takes a lot of the thinking out. You look at the tape (from previous seasons) and see guys in stacks and bunches and don't know what to do.
"We want to make sure that's not happening with our guys. That takes a lot of the confusion out, and when you're not confused, you're able to play fast. You know what you're doing and you can go make plays."
The Saints were tied with the Steelers for the NFL lead in interceptions this past season with 18. In each of Glenn's last four seasons in New Orleans, the Saints have registered double-digit interceptions. The Lions have accomplished that just once (2017) over that span.
Glenn likes the athletic traits from a guy like Okudah, and is excited about the overall youth of Detroit's secondary. He feels he can mold that group into a unit that is much better than we saw on the field last year.