When John Abraham went down at the start of the season, everyone wondered how the Arizona Cardinals would be able to maintain their already depleted pass rush defensively.
The notion of next man up has applied to so many different positions for this team but other than Drew Stanton at quarterback, one of the next players to step up in a huge play has been second-year player Alex Okafor.
The former Texas Longhorn missed most of his rookie season due to biceps tear after week three which left question marks to how productive he would be in 2014. He was sidelined once again to start this season until week five and didn’t see his first game action until week six against the Redskins. But in that game he sure made his presence felt. He had two sacks in that game for Todd Bowles, Bruce Arians and company and he hasn’t left the field since.
“It’s just about getting out there and getting reps and the opportunity,” Okafor stated. “And when you do get that, it’s putting it all together and making things happen. The coaching staff will put you in a great position to make plays so when you get in that situation, you just have to make them.”
“I don’t think there is any doubt,” Arians said of the great impact that Okafor has made. “Now hopefully he stays on the field. Knock on wood he doesn’t get injured again. He is progressing nicely.”
Making big plays has been Okafor in a nutshell. He has seven sacks in the nine games played which is tied for the most on the team with Calais Campbell who is having a Pro Bowl caliber season. Okafor’s confidence has been through the roof which was evident last week against the Kansas City Chiefs where he had a sack and his first career interception. This confidence has stemmed from the game slowing down for him with the amount of experience he has gained.
“I think that’s the biggest thing in this league,” he said. “Experience. You can’t trade that for anything. So, I am starting to accumulate that a little bit and it is starting to show.”
The Cardinals face new challenge this week. They participate in their first and only thursday night game of the season on the road against a surging St. Louis team who has not allowed a single point in two consecutive weeks on defense. On offense, they look different from how they did back on November 9th because Shaun Hill is running the quarterback position instead of third stringer Austin Davis.
Okafor and the Cardinals will have a different schedule and different mentality this week with it being shorter. Body recovery time is one of the biggest adjustments they will have to deal with.
“I am feeling pretty bad right now so I can’t imagine how the older cats are feeling,” explained Okafor. “But we are laying off the body. It’s all mental this week getting ready for them so that’s what we are focusing on.”
Cardinals and Rams kick off from St. Louis on Thursday night at 6:25pm.