The No. 3 overall pick from the 2020 NFL Draft will be going into Year 3 still aiming for his first injury free campaign.
Lions cornerback Jeff Okudah has been no stranger to on-the-field hardship since joining Detroit. The Ohio State product pieced together an uneven rookie season, gutting through hamstring and shoulder ailments before a core muscle injury knocked him out for the year. Okudah entered the next season with renewed confidence thanks to an overhauled coaching staff, but a torn Achilles in Week 1 prevented him from seeing his progress come to fruition.
"I just had big hopes for that last year," Okudah said Thursday, via the team’s website. "It kind of felt like I was living a nightmare."
The dream now is to continue the recovery process, officially shed the injury label in 2022 and contribute to a Lions team that many feel is moving in the right direction. A certain degree of that optimism is tied to the infectious personality and culture-building prowess of head coach Dan Campbell, who was a big fan of Okudah early in last year's training camp and is confident with the progress he's witnessed thus far in this year's organized team activities.
"We're not worried about Jeff's movement skills," Campbell said. "Like, he's going to be able to move. You watch him, with his footwork and the things that he's doing, he can do all that.
"That is real important right now, is just continuing his growth mentally and him being able to get the walkthrough reps and just to get the film study. Those things are big for him right now. So, it's good to have him here, to have him available to do that. When the time's right, to go full speed when we get him in camp, he'll be ready."
Still just 23, Okudah has no concerns about the physical aspect of recovery. What he put even more focus on over the past eight months involves the mental side of returning to the field.
He reached out to other professional athletes that have resumed their careers following torn Achilles in order to pick their brains and manage his expectations.
"They just kind of gave me the confidence that, you know, the Achilles will be the least of your worries," Okudah said. "It will be about getting back mentally, taking care of the rest of your body. For me, that was really reassuring going into the process."
With his mental and physical recovery well underway, and training camp slowly inching into sight, Okudah is in position to satisfy his appetite for proving himself once again.
"I feel like I've been hungry like I haven't ate in years," Okudah said. "That hunger has just been inside of me since the injury. Really, even before the injury, so I've had that feeling, man, it's about to be two years. Just that hunger. So, I'm ready to go out there and just play to the best of my ability."