The No. 3 overall pick in the 2020 draft, Okudah suffered a season-ending left Achilles tear early in the fourth quarter of Detroit's 2021 opener against the San Francisco 49ers. Now that he is on the road back to the field, the organization is focused on the confidence aspect of his recovery as much as the physical process.
“That’s the biggest thing right now," Lions coach Dan Campbell said. "We’re not worried about Jeff’s movement skills. You watch him, with his footwork and the things that he’s doing, he can do all that.
"That is real important right now ... just continuing his growth mentally, and him being able to get the walk-through 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.”
Throughout the rehab process, Okudah said he reached out to NBA players John Wall, who tore his Achilles in December of 2018, and DeMarcus Cousins, who tore his in January of 2018, for advice on how they were able to recover from the injury. He also researched Achilles tears to become more knowledgeable of his own situation.
“They just kind of gave me the confidence that the Achilles will be the least of your worries,” Okudah said. “It’ll be about getting back mentally, taking care of the rest of your body, and for me that was really reassuring going into the rehab process. So, from there, it was just attacking the rehab since November.”
Okudah entered last season with high expectations. But he admitted to hitting an emotional lowpoint in his aunt's car hours after the injury occurred.
“When I tore my Achilles, just having my aunt pick me up, and I couldn’t really walk," he said. "Didn’t really know for sure if it was a torn Achilles, but obviously, I tried to stay optimistic in moments like that. But the second I got in the car with my aunt, I just broke down and started crying.
“A lot of emotion kind of poured over me, and she never really saw me cry before, but I just had big hopes for that last year. So that day, I was down, and it kind of felt like I was living a nightmare, honestly. So, to be here right now smiling is a blessing because I know where I was at mentally, and I came a long way.”
Okudah is limited throughout organized team activities this summer. He would not put a timetable on his return, but he said he is confident he’ll “be ready when it’s time to be ready.”
Campbell said he has been “very encouraged” with his rehab process.
“He attacked the surgery, the rehab, he was up here plenty," Campbell said. "We saw a lot of him. He wanted to be around. So, he’d be up here watching tape with the guys, be in meetings.
"Sometimes he’d come out to practice or scoot out there, and so he was still engaged and wanted to be around. Look, he did a pretty good job with it. There again, it’s not easy, it’s a hard thing to do, but it’s better than just totally disengaging and being away from it, and I don’t think that’s great for you either.”