When Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn was told by a reporter about the focus on cornerback Jeff Okudah after the 2020 third overall pick gave up a big play against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Glenn reacted with a chuckle and a response so dry, it’s hard to tell if it was even sarcasm.
“That surprises me,” Glenn said.
A former Pro Bowl cornerback himself, Glenn likely knows what it’s like to be dragged by media for giving up a big play. It’s a right of passage for any defensive back. But now as a coach, he’s here to protect and hype up his own player. And when it comes to Okudah, he believes not enough attention is being given to the good plays he’s making and his ability to rebound last Saturday night.
“He’s a good player, he’s been practicing hard. His eyes go bad and he gave up a play, but there’s been a lot of plays he has made,” Glenn said. “At some point, we’ve got to talk about those plays he has made instead of the one he didn’t make.”
After giving up the big 43-yard grab to Diontae Johnson, Okudah responded in a big way. He recognized a reverse, knifed into the backfield, blew up the play which allowed a teammate to clean it up. Then when targeted deep later in the game, he broke up a pass to Pro Bowler JuJu Smith-Schuster to prevent a touchdown and force a field goal attempt.
“Didn’t like the first deep ball, could have been a little better in the open field,” defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant said on Monday. “(But he) shot his gun on the reverse, which was great, and then finished great on the third-down stop against JuJu Smith-Schuster, which I thought was phenomenal for his technique and also his confidence.”
Being able to put one bad play behind you is key to cornerback play because getting beat is inevitable. If you aren’t mentally strong, the problems can compound and only make matters worse. Okudah says that point has been driven home by Glenn and Pleasant.
“AP and AG are always harping on about, just having a short memory,” Okudah said on Tuesday. “There’s a lot of great players that play this game, so just having a short memory, not taking everything so personal, and just being able to be ready to make the next play when it’s available to you.”
Pleasant and Glenn have made it clear that giving up big plays is not okay. But that sort of thing can be fixed with learning, and the preseason is for exactly that. What they cannot allow to happen is for those mistakes to snowball and a player’s confidence to drop. It’s safe to say Okudah’s confidence remains high and his errors remain low. So maybe a little credit is due to the Lions’ top corner, and maybe—just maybe—it’s far too premature to be throwing around that b-word.