TEMPE, Ariz. -- For most of his three NFL seasons, Sam Acho has appeared ready to break out.
As a rookie in 2011, he tallied seven quarterback sacks over the team's final 12 games.
Then, in 2012, the former fourth-round pick out of Texas stumbled a bit, recording just four sacks while starting all 16 games for the team.
The potential had always been there for the 6-foot-3, 257-pound outside linebacker, but he hadn't quite been able to put it all together and be the consistent pass rusher the Cardinals were hoping for.
A new coaching staff brought with it new optimism in 2013, however, and after a somewhat slow start to the season, Acho -- and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles -- thought he was on the verge of putting it all together as the team entered its Week 3 matchup with the New Orleans Saints.
"Even in the week before, the week as we were preparing for New Orleans, [Bowles] kept on saying, 'Hey Sam, you're going to come free a couple times this game,'" Acho said after an Organized Team Activity at the team's Tempe training facility Tuesday. "And I had a sack in the third quarter."
But Acho also broke his left fibula in the third quarter of the game and was lost for the rest of the season. It was a shame, because Acho felt like he was ready to take the next step in his career.
"I think it was just years of preparation kind of culminating and coming to fruition," he said. "So I was really starting to get a grasp for the defense, I was really starting to come into my own.
"And I think this year's going to be a continuation of that."
The linebacker, now 25, said there were times during the season where Bowles would tell him he'd be up to at least eight sacks at that point, which only led Acho to be even more anxious to get back on the field.
"A lot of us either in our prospective fields, whether it's in reporting or even our high school days or college days of playing football, you really feel like your getting into the niche of things," he said. "And that's what I felt last year, and I didn't only feel it, but I actually saw it on the field with the sack on Brees and a couple of the adjustments I had in that game.
"But I'm excited. It's going to be another challenge, another opportunity to be able to get better."
Acho added that this experience taught him not to take playing football for granted, and besides that, he's not at all worried about having to re-prove himself and compete for a role on the team.
"It's always a competition; every day you step on the field it's all about putting your best foot forward," he said. "The great thing about this team is we don't play favorites. We put the best guys on the field, and so I'm excited about going and showing the guys hey, I'm one of the best guys on the field so put me out there."