GLENDALE, Ariz. — Alex Okafor played defensive end for the University of Texas, but was taken by the Arizona Cardinals in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft with the idea that he’d become an outside linebacker.
His transition was abruptly halted just three games into his rookie season when he suffered a torn biceps tendon in a loss to the New Orleans Saints.
“Just learning the coverages,” Okafor said of the biggest adjustment he needed to make. “I had my hand in the ground basically my whole career at Texas, so just learning the coverages, learning where my help is out there, and kind of getting the scheme down.”
Okafor says he’s 100 percent comfortable in his role now, and it has shown on the field. Up to this point — through OTAs, minicamp and a couple days of training camp — the second-year pro has done nothing but impress. He’s getting more reps with John Abraham not in camp due to personal reasons, and he’s making them count.
The light, it would appear, has gone on.
“He did not make that transition until about OTA 4,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “I was like, ‘Oh, maybe this guy’s a player.’
“We really didn’t see it last year, he got hurt so early, and all of a sudden he’s dropping into space and doing the things that (show) he obviously had done a lot of work, mentally and physically, while he was injured to be ready for this opportunity.”
Okafor will have every chance to carve out a key role with the team. After being credited with 23 sacks in his college career — 12.5 of which came his senior season — the expectation is there for him to become a reliable pass rusher. Every team needs them, and the Cardinals could especially use one who is just 23 years old.
But with just one tackle in his NFL career, he still very much remains an unproven commodity. There is plenty of hype surrounding him these days, but the position change and injury delayed his chance to showcase what he can do on the field.
Now the 6-foot-4, 260-pound Okafor is both healthy and ready.
“Obviously missing the whole season man, it kind of gets you itching a little bit, so just getting back out there is a great feeling,” he said. “Sometimes when you’re sitting on the couch you forget you’re a football player. So (I am) getting out there reminding me what I can do, and I’m ready to help the team.”