Lions defensive backs coach and pass game coordinator Aubrey Pleasant was asked this week what his goals were for third-year cornerback Jeff Okudah.
"Small victories," Pleasant said. "And right now we have them with him being here. He's even here this week right now (for the last OTA week) being active during practice. Day by day, small victories for him, and right now he's on the winning side."
Okudah has played in just 10 games his first two seasons in the NFL after the Lions made him the No. 3 overall pick out of Ohio State in 2020. He missed seven games with a core muscle injury his rookie season and then tore his Achilles Week 1 last year which forced him to miss the rest of his second season.
Okudah has rehabbed hard and looks to be on track to make a return to the field sometime in training camp – maybe Day 1. Okudah said a couple weeks ago he's never been hungrier to prove himself after how the start of his career has gone dealing with injuries.
Pleasant and Okudah are happy with the small goals for now, but the next step is for those small victories to eventually become larger goals. If Okudah can make that transition, Pleasant hopes Okudah is positioned to have a breakout season in his third year.
Okudah was taking reps with the first-team defense opposite last year's breakout cornerback Amani Oruwariye (six interceptions in 2021) in the walkthrough periods in OTAs and minicamp. He's got a great shot to start on the outside opposite Oruwariye when ready to be a full participant in camp.
Okudah has stayed involved, even when not taking part in the competitive periods as the Lions ease him back into action. He's always standing behind the defense near Pleasant, with a call sheet in hand, often interacting with Pleasant about what's happening in front of him.
"He's actually doing very well," Pleasant said. "I think because of his intent. He's very much into every play. Not only the personnel, but the offensive situation in terms of where the sticks are. He's asking the right questions.
"He's also not afraid to be wrong, and I think sometimes humility is something that is not always easy for professional athletes. But anytime they show it, especially for learning, or physically going out there and doing it, it's my job as a coach to make sure that it's answered."
View photos from Day 7 of Detroit Lions OTA practices on Monday, June 13, 2022 in Allen Park, Mich.
The Lions have good competition at cornerback, especially when second-year CB Jerry Jacobs returns from an ACL injury suffered late last season. That will allow everyone at that spot to push each other and hopefully be better for it.
Okudah was the No. 3 overall pick a couple years ago for a reason. He's an explosive athlete with a terrific skill set we haven't been able to fully witness his first two seasons in the league because of injury. The hope is the injuries are behind him now, and he can help the Lions' defense improve in 2022.
"Anybody that has gone through what Mr. Okudah has gone through these first couple years in the NFL, to see the way he's transitioned and still being endearing to his teammates, listening, being active, I really believe as a coach sometimes players can get lost in practice and not really learn from other people's mistakes," Pleasant said.
"Jeff knows specifically that time is of the essence for him and he's trying to take full advantage of that and I'm very appreciative and proud of his in his development and growth."