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Okudah reflects on adverse rookie year, expects to be full go for offseason

It took just eight games into rookie cornerback Jeff Okudah's NFL career to lose more games (5) than he did his entire three seasons at Ohio State (4).

"I think I've grown a lot with how I respond to adversity and kind of known what kind of man and what kind of player I am in different situations," Okudah said Monday as Lions players were in Allen Park to clear out their lockers.

"The reality is, when you're at Ohio State, things are really looking up a lot of the time. You don't really have to deal with losing. You don't deal with dysfunction. You kind of get your little fantasy bubble popped and now you're in the real world. So now, it's how you respond when you're not always on top, when you're the underdog. Honestly, once you embrace that, I think it's kind of a challenge you look forward to when you wake up every single day."

Okudah came to Detroit this offseason as the No. 3 overall pick, which comes with a lot of responsibility and expectation.

Okudah went through some highs and some lows his rookie season before ending the year on injured reserve. He was a reserve and a starter at times, and finished playing nine games and allowing 38 completions on 50 attempts (76 percent completion percentage) for 579 yards and a score. Opposing passers had a 112.0 passer rating when throwing at him in 2020. He was very strong as a tackler and in the run game, but overall, those coverage numbers are on the disappointing side.

"I think 2020 was definitely a year of growth," Okudah said. "Really, since I've been playing football, just my most adverse year with everything I had to go through, me myself and as a team. I know for me personally, it was just a different year. Just having to deal with injuries, and obviously you want to win more when you're a competitor. Obviously, you want to play better from that perspective. It was really hard to come to terms with just not playing to the standards of the City of Detroit and what they expect to see out there.

"I think going forward, definitely have that on my mind and definitely something that's really going to fuel my hunger this offseason. Not necessarily trying to prove everyone wrong, just trying to prove a lot of people right."

Okudah had surgery on a groin injury Dec. 15 that had been bothering him all season. He said before the surgery moving laterally didn't bother him as much as it did when he'd open his hips and try get to full speed on the sprint. The surgery went well, and he expects to be full go in time for the start of Detroit's offseason training program.

When asked about the organizational changes this year, Okudah talked about some of the dysfunction and lack of transparency between the players, coaches and front office as being part of the problem. He's hoping the organization hires a coach who the players feel like will go to war with them every Sunday and have their backs.

Organizational hires aside, this will be an important offseason for Okudah, who's expected to take a big leap in development in year two and be a key part of what should be a revamped Lions defense under new leadership in 2021.

"Anytime you come in as a young player, particularly picked where he was picked, I feel like there's a lot of pressure," said Darrell Bevell, who was named to the interim head coach job after Okudah was already done playing for the year.

"I think there was probably a lot of frustration that was built up (from) trying to play well, trying to fight through some of these injuries and the things that he had to work through in his rookie campaign.

"As far as the talent of the player, I mean obviously I think he is talented. I think that he can help us. I know that we picked him there for a reason and like I said, I do think he has a bright future, and that's definitely going to be an important position for us here as the Lions moving forward because there's obviously a lot of rebuilding on that side of the ball that we need to do."

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