New Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn had a message for second-year cornerback Jeff Okudah this offseason.
"Don't try to live up to being 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 had an up and down rookie season in 2020 while dealing with injuries. His rookie year ultimately ended prematurely due to a core muscle injury that required surgery in December.
Okudah has stuck around Detroit this offseason to rehab, and told detroitlions.com he's transitioning his rehab to a strength and conditioning phase, and is excited to be ready to go for offseason training.
Okudah allowed 38 completions on 50 attempts (76 percent completion percentage) for 579 yards and a score in his coverage area in nine games played as a rookie. Opposing passers had a 112.0 passer rating when throwing in his direction.
View photos of the Detroit Lions coaching staffing visiting Ford Field together for the first time March 10, 2021.
But Okudah is optimistic his second season in Detroit will see significant improvements for two reasons. One, he feels the best he's felt physically in years. Two, he's extremely optimistic about the coaching staff the Lions have assembled to help develop his talents.
"Rehab is going great," Okudah said. "I can't explain how thankful I am to the Lions training staff, the work we've done, Tom Colt (coordinator of rehabilitation and assistant athletic trainer) has been helping me and pushing me every single day.
"I know it sounds kind of cliché, but I feel better than I have in a really long time. So, I'm really excited to get out to work, see the gains I've put in from the work and just see where it goes. I'm really open-minded this year. I'm coming in really with the mentality of not proving people wrong, but just trying to prove myself right."
Then there's the new coaching staff, which Okudah said has been a breath of fresh air so far. Okudah sat down with new Lions head coach Dan Campbell this offseason. Okudah said the first thing Campbell did was look him in the eye and say, 'I believe in you.'
Okudah said that went a long way with him, knowing Campbell has his back. It has also given him extra motivation to prove his new head coach right heading into his second season.
Knowing that this new staff believes in him, Okudah said he feels a responsibility to prove that faith is well placed with his play on the field.
"I can't let this team down," he said. "I'm just investing myself any way possible to be the best player I can for the City of Detroit.
"I can't express how blessed I feel to have (defensive backs coach) Aubrey (Pleasant) and (defensive coordinator) Aaron (Glenn) in the building. Those are guys that obviously ... Aaron was an All-Pro corner, had tremendous success in the NFL. I don't think you'll find a lot of guys that know technique, know how to coach the scheme.
"I've heard (Rams All-Pro cornerback Jalen) Ramsey give his testimonial of how (Pleasant) has impacted his play. I've heard (Saints Pro Bowl cornerback) Marshon Lattimore talk about how Aaron Glenn has impacted his play. So, I think the want to be great is there, but to have coaches that are able to get you to where you want to go to.
"When I was in college, (Ohio State defensive coordinator) Greg Schiano told me that the traditional use of the word coach is someone that can take you (from) where you are to where you want to be. I think that having guys that kind of emulate that word, and seeing it in real time, it's just been something I can't even explain how happy I am."