Lions expect top draft pick Jeff Okudah to be quick study in virtual classroom
School will be in session soon for the Lions’ rookies. But for now, the crash course will be limited to the classroom.
And while distance learning isn’t ideal for any NFL player, let alone a cornerback already penciled in as an immediate starter for Matt Patricia’s defense, part of what sold Detroit on first-round draft pick Jeff Okudah was his study habits and his general aptitude.
“I would hope that Jeff Okudah would come in and start Day 1,” general manager Bob Quinn said immediately after the draft. “I sure hope so. But listen, if we don’t have an offseason program, would it take him a couple of weeks? Maybe. You never know.
“But I think he’s a very mature kid, very smart football-wise. I mean, I’m very confident that even if we do a virtual offseason program for six weeks, he’ll know enough of our defense to be a very capable player very, very early in his rookie season.”
That learning process begins in earnest with a virtual rookie minicamp this weekend for Okudah and the rest of the Lions’ draft class, as well as seven undrafted rookie free agents the team signed last month.
From there, the rookies will join the rest of the Lions' veterans in the team's offseason program, though no one's quite sure what that'll look like over the next month or so. Or how well the information will be retained without a chance for the coaching staff to drill it home on the practice field.
Yet in Okudah’s case, Patricia doesn’t sound overly concerned.
The cornerback position is a “ton of technique work,” yet Patricia expects considerable carryover from what Okudah practiced at Ohio State, where the secondary coach and co-defensive coordinator last season, Jeff Hafley, “is a good friend of mine.”
“We’ve actually coached a lot of the same techniques for a long time, which is something for us that was really interesting about (Okudah) even going up to and into the draft,” Patricia said. “Having a guy that we knew was very familiar with our techniques and we thought that it would help us in the long run, that’s one of the things that really contributed to the decision for us.”
It’s one of the things that Okudah is banking on as well.
“I think my background of playing a bunch of defenses — I’m pretty confident that I can go in there and be able to learn the defense,” Okudah said.
Okudah points to the film-study habits he picked up early in his college career as a big reason why. Ironically, the former Ohio State grad assistant who may have helped him the most with that was V’Angelo Bentley, an ex-Illinois cornerback who signed with Patricia and New England as an undrafted free agent in 2016 but couldn’t make the Patriots’ deep roster.
It’s a different set of expectations here for Okudah as the No. 3 overall pick, obviously. But the same rules still apply.
“They’re going to give me the plan,” he said after the draft, “and I’m going to follow it to the best of my ability.”
Still, it’ll be a different sort of orientation than rookies usually get with an exhausting three-day minicamp, where they take what they learn in meeting rooms and immediately test it on the field.
“It’s terminology first, making sure they understand the words that we use and what they mean,” Patricia said. “And then demonstrating some of the techniques is always a little bit interesting right now. To turn the camera around and watch somebody who’s totally out of shape try to do it is not the best, but I think that they get it as far as what we’re doing there.
“And then being able to also give them those tools or those individual skills that we’re doing and allow (a player) to go be able to do it outside. … The (veterans) are videotaping themselves and they’re like, ‘Hey, Coach, check this out. This is what we’re working on here.’ Just trying to do as much of that as possible.”
Patricia’s counting on his veteran leaders to help with that process this spring, particularly since no one knows when the team will be able to practice together. Quarterback Matthew Stafford, for example, already has worked out in the Atlanta area with rookies D’Andre Swift and Quintez Cephus.
“I think some of the older guys are doing a great job of reaching out, or we’ll reach out to the younger guys and give them a little bit of their veteran advice and tips as they go forward,” Patricia said. “But 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. 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 skill-set when they get here.”