Lions' Glenn wants CB Okudah giving his best, not trying to live up to No. 3 pick

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
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When you're the No. 3 pick in the draft and the first cornerback to be selected that early in two decades, there are inherent expectations for immediate high-level production. 

In that regard, Jeff Okudah didn't deliver during his rookie season with the Detroit Lions. 

Not that he's asking for them, but there are definitely some built-in excuses for the lackluster performance. The COVID-19 pandemic robbed Okudah of a traditional offseason program and preseason. That's thousands of reps, lost forever. And a training camp injury, which lingered into the start of the regular season, further limited his time on the practice field. 

Jeff Okudah

Once he did start playing, it was a trial by fire. He was thrust into the starting lineup due to an injury to starter Desmond Trufant, and had to face a gauntlet of some of the league's best receivers, including Davante Adams, Julio Jones and DeAndre Hopkins. 

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On top of that, Okudah was secretly nursing a groin injury that was limiting his ability to reach top speed, perhaps the most important tool in a defensive back's set. 

In all, he allowed 76 percent of the passes his direction to be completed for 579 yards and one touchdown. He also intercepted one pass before the team shut him down to get the groin issue surgically corrected. 

Entering year two, outside expectations aren't going to decrease. Fans still expect Okudah to be a star, a true lockdown cornerback. 

But new defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn views it a little differently. Don't be confused, he also has a lofty vision for Okudah's potential, but he doesn't want the young cornerback to be putting any unnecessary pressure on himself. 

"I think the first thing you let those guys know, and a guy like Okudah, listen, let your best be good enough for us," Glenn said. "Don't try to live up to being the third pick in the draft. 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."

Glenn has been in those shoes. In 1994, he was selected in the first round (No. 12 overall) by the New York Jets. He took his early-career lumps, but by year three, he was an All-Pro, an honor he'd earn three times during his 15-year career. 

Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn

Glenn, along with defensive backs coach/passing game coordinator Aubrey Pleasant, will be tasked with not only getting Okudah's trajectory back on track, but the secondary as a whole after the group allowed a league-worst 112.4 passer rating in 2020. 

Pleasant, who is coming over from the Los Angles Rams, has not worked with Glenn before. There's not even an obvious overlap with the staffs been a part of, but philosophically and schematically, there's a clear mesh. 

"I will say this: We come from the same tree as far as defense is concerned," Glenn said. "The one thing that I learned as a pup, and Bill Parcells taught me this, make sure you try to surround yourself from the same tribe. We're from the same tribe, as far as coverage. That attracted me to AP, as far as the split-safety coverage they did with the Rams. I've been part of Vic (Fangio)'s system for a while. Even played for Vic when I was with the Texans.

"Again, a lot of these coaches that you're going to see that are with me are from the same tribe. Again, I learned it from Bill Parcells back in the day, and I haven't moved from that thought process ever."

Split safeties point to a heavier dose of Cover-2 and Cover-4 coverage looks. Those won't be new to Okudah, but they were used sparingly by both the Lions last season and when he was in college, playing for Ohio State. 

If executed properly, it should make it more difficult for opponents to beat the Lions deep. That's a good place to start a turnaround. 

"I am excited to get my hands on these young guys," Glenn said. "When you have guys of that age, you can mold them and train them exactly the way you want them to go. Again, it reminded me of my first couple years in New Orleans of getting the guys who we had.

"... We're confident those guys are going to come out and understand exactly what we're doing and can perform to the level that we need them to perform at." 

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @justin_rogers

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