The learning curve is normally pretty steep for rookies entering the NFL, and the new reality of virtual programs and learning from afar further complicates that process of adapting and readying themselves to come in and be contributors right away.
For Lions first-round pick Jeff Okudah, who the Lions selected No. 3 overall in last month's NFL Draft, bridging the gap between learning virtually and being up to speed when teams return to the field is critically important.
There's a ton of technique work that goes with teaching young cornerbacks. Fortunately for the Lions, Okudah's position coach at Ohio State last year, Jeff Hafley, is a good friend of Lions head coach Matt Patricia, and the two have coached a lot of the same techniques for the position over the years.
"It was something for us that was really interesting about (Okudah) even going up and into the draft," Patricia said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday, when asked about Okudah and how the Lions plan to get him up to speed to contribute early.
"Having a guy we knew was very familiar with our techniques and we thought that would help us in the long run."
The Lions will conduct their rookie minicamp this upcoming weekend, according to Patricia, but it will be done virtually, like the rest of the offseason training program with the veterans has been conducted up to this point. Okudah and the rest of the rookies will then be pushed into the program with the vets next week, which is a virtual classroom program.
For youngsters like Okudah, learning the terminology and the ins and outs of scheme are going to be important this spring and into the summer, especially given the likelihood that their first on-field instruction won't happen until training camp. Teams look to hit the ground running in camp with the regular season soon to follow.
"Making sure they understand the words that we use and what they mean," Patricia said. "A lot of it will be carried over from what (Okudah) knew before, but sometimes there's little variations here or there and we don't want there to be any mistakes from that aspect of it."
In the virtual teaching environment Patricia and the coaching staff are currently in, sometimes they have to get creative about getting those points across.
"Demonstrating some of the techniques is always a little interesting right now," Patricia said. "Point the camera around and watch somebody who's totally out of shape do it is always not the best, but I think they get it as far as what we're doing there."
Patricia said he'll get videos from players going through drills on their own and asking him to critique technique.
This virtual offseason training program is about doing as much they can with the technology available to prepare young guys like Okudah as best they can ahead of when they're given the clearance to conduct on-field workouts in Allen Park.
"Just get to work. I mean, I can control what I can control," Okudah said of how he is taking on the challenge of an unusual offseason while preparing to contribute quickly at a challenging position like cornerback. "I'm going to do everything that I can to be as ready as I can be whenever I get to Detroit."
Patricia said some of the veterans have been good about reaching out to the young players like Okudah to give them some advice and tips.
"Certainly, the on-field, in between the white lines stuff is – training camp will be critical for (Okudah), and for all of those guys at that point to be able to see how that's come along," Patricia said. "But if we can get the vernacular part of it or the verbiage taken care of now, then we can really focus on the on-field skillset when they get here, if that makes sense."