When Jeff Okudah and Will Harris entered training camp, they were told outright that there would be a competition between the two for a starting cornerback job opposite Amani Oruwariye. Now that we’re in the final week of training camp, the Detroit Lions still have not made a decision on who will start in Week 1, but they have made a separate decision: both will have a role in this defense.
“This is an ongoing battle and it will be an ongoing battle,” defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said on Tuesday. “Man, I wish I could sit here and tell you exactly when we can say, ‘Okay, here’s the stamp. Here’s the guy that’s going to be the starter.’ But I will say this, both of those guys will have a role within our defense, and we’re going to try to do everything we can to make sure that we put those guys in a situation where they’re going to be successful.”
So if you have either of these players off your 53-man roster prediction, you better fix it.
Harris and Okudah have been splitting day with the first-team defense throughout camp. If we were to go off recent trends, Okudah started the most recent preseason game against the Colts and he was also repping with the first-team defense during Tuesday’s intense night practice.
Coming off a torn Achilles suffered last September, Okudah has already passed his first test. Prior to camp, defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant challenged the former third overall pick to value “small victories” and keep his mental health right. Check and check.
“Saying everything right lets me know that his mental health is where it needs to be,” Pleasant said. “You heard me in the spring talk about small victories. I think he’s been able to accomplish that. I also think that he’s accepted the challenge of competition, and we’re just gonna keep chopping this wood and hopefully continue to be one percent better per day.”
But before the Lions go crowning him the starter, they need to make sure he can play in game situations. Due to injury, Okudah has played in just 10 games over two seasons, and he’s only played in a couple quarters under this coaching staff. Pleasant needs to see more to make sure Okudah isn’t, in Pleasant’s words, a “practice player.”
“You go out there and practice and make everything right and do it right, yet under the lights, they’re not able to excel,” Pleasant said. “And by no means am I saying this about Jeff, but I don’t feel comfortable enough to hang my hat on that until I actually see it as a coach.”
Okudah will undoubtedly get that opportunity in the team’s final preseason game this Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers when Detroit is expected to play their starters for around a half.
That said, Pleasant knows Okudah has all the tools to put it together.
“I think everybody in here knows, whether you know football or not, Jeff Okudah is a very good athlete,” Pleasant said. “You just watch football. So let’s make that athleticism catch up to the football IQ.”
Glenn clarified the Lions do not intend on rotating these players into the season. They will make a decision for Week 1, but the other player will still be involved in the game in subpackages.
“Well, there’s no danger (in rotating) until you get to the season. To where you just say, ‘Okay, here’s our starter. Then you have that guy play,” Glenn explained. “As the season progresses, those roles as far as dime, those roles as far as penny package, that guys will have a role. So, each guy will have their chance to go out there and play, we just haven’t made the decision on who’s that lockdown guy at that spot right now.”