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Okudah excited to work with new coaches, fellow young cornerbacks

Jeff Okudah smiled at the suggestion that it must feel good to be young and healthy going into his second season with the Detroit Lions.

Add to it being part of a trio of young cornerbacks drafted by the Lions in the last three years, plus what he has learned from the new coaching staff, and his smile only gets wider.

For Okudah, it all starts with being healthy enough to work in the offseason with no limitations as he prepares for the 2021 season.

He had surgery in December to repair a core muscle injury that limited him to nine games and six starts in a disappointing rookie season.

"I feel great," Okudah said in a Zoom interview Thursday afternoon. "I'm definitely trending toward 100 percent. That's a testament to the Detroit Lions' staff.

"I do everything. No limitations."

Okudah feels like he's operating with a full tank again. That was not the case last year as he struggled to remain on the field before finally being put on injured reserve.

"It feels like I have a different level that I wasn't able to tap into last year," he said. "I feel like this year, kind of moving around and not having that pain in my groin -- it just feels like a different level."

Making any firm judgments on Okudah's rookie season is about as futile as trying to put a puzzle together with a handful of pieces missing.

Operating under strict protocols put in place to deal with COVID-19 put all rookies at a disadvantage, not just Okudah. They had no offseason program before the start of training camp, and no preseason games.

Okudah obviously did not live up to expectations last year -- his own included -- especially after being drafted third overall out of Ohio State.

He had one interception and two passes defended. However, he is not driven to improve because of what the critics have said.

"My mindset is not really proving people wrong," he said. "It's proving myself right."

Okudah already has developed a comfort level with defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn and defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant.

There is more to the preparation process than physical activity. Detail work is important in the process, and that includes film study.

"Within the first couple of meetings, I was picking up so much that I thought to myself, 'It would be nice to have these tools in my toolbox going into my rookie year,'" Okudah said.

"I'm grateful to have them going into my second year."

The Lions are trending toward youth at cornerback. They drafted Ifeatu Melifonwu of Syracuse in the third round. He joins Amani Oruwariye, a fifth-round pick from Penn State in 2019, and Okudah, last year's first-round pick.

"I think it's an opportunity for all of us to be out there," Okudah said. "I talked to Amani during the offseason. We have the same mindset.

"That's just go out there and get better every single day, and show what we're capable of doing.

"That's play at a high level. We're going to take that challenge and embrace it."

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