McLaurin looking forward to matchup vs. former OSU teammate Okudah originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Coming from a powerhouse college football program like Ohio State, Terry McLaurin is used to seeing multiple of his former Buckeye teammates in the NFL. The university had 52 alumni on active rosters in Week 1, tied with LSU for the second most of any school.
This upcoming Sunday, McLaurin will individually have the chance to match up against one of his former teammates when the Commanders travel to Detroit. That would be Lions cornerback Jeff Okudah, who was teammates with McLaurin in Columbus for two years before McLaurin entered the 2019 NFL Draft.
Naturally, the Commanders’ star wideout is looking forward to the battle.
“Jeff and I have been friends since his time at Ohio State,” McLaurin said. “So I’m really looking forward to competing against him again.”
Looking back on his Ohio State days, McLaurin recalls several practice battles he had with Okudah over the years. Being a few years older, McLaurin was often the winner of those reps early on.
“It was fun,” McLaurin said on facing Okudah in practice. “Especially the early years, because I kind of got to throw him around a little bit. The physicality of the game was a little different going from high school to college. But he adapted really well. He’s a guy who’s a sponge, really just excited to get better and learn.”
While McLaurin found almost immediate success in the NFL — he came within eight yards of setting Washington’s franchise rookie receiving record — the same can’t be said about Okudah.
The No. 3 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Okudah struggled as a rookie. Cornerback is one of the toughest positions to excel at early in the league; Okudah had more than his fair share of growing pains. Things didn’t get much better in Year 2, as the cornerback suffered a ruptured Achilles in the Lions’ Week 1 matchup against the 49ers last September.
There’s a reason Okudah was a top-three draft pick, though: he has a ton of natural talent. And in this past Sunday’s game against the Eagles, Okudah turned in arguably his best game as a pro: nine tackles and one pass defended. Okudah was also tasked with guarding Eagles wideout Devonta Smith, the 2020 Heisman winner. Smith didn’t record a catch on four targets.
“I loved the fact that he went up there and challenged,” Lions head coach Dan Campbell said Wednesday on Okudah’s Week 1 performance. “He challenged plenty of times on the perimeter, challenged the receivers in the pass game. He came up and tackled. I thought he played physical. Listen, he certainly wasn’t perfect. But the first time out of the gate in a year — live game, full reps — he took quite a load. It was a positive. It’s certainly something to build off of. … He’s trending the right way.”
Considering Okudah’s strong Week 1 outing and McLaurin’s history with the cornerback, don’t expect he or the rest of Washington’s wide receivers to underestimate Okudah and Detroit’s secondary.
“I know he’s a really big corner and likes to be aggressive,” McLaurin said. “He’s definitely a guy that I’m going to be studying, along with Amani [Oruwariye], who I have familiarity with from Penn State. Two physical, long corners that can really pose an issue for us. But I think we’re going to be prepared.”
Physicality is something that McLaurin mentioned multiple times when discussing Okudah and Oruwariye’s play style. It’s something they didn’t see too much of in Week 1, as Jacksonville’s secondary played a bit more off the line of scrimmage than Detriot is expected to.
So, when preparing for Detriot this upcoming Sunday, being physical at the line of scrimmage is something McLaurin is preaching to the rest of his wideouts.
“I just want to continue to make it tough on [Okudah] and Amani as much as I can to try and make those tough plays,” McLaurin said. “We know it’s going to be a contested game, maybe see a little more bump and run than we saw last game against the Jaguars. I know we’re going to be up for the challenge.”