GLENDALE, Ariz. — That’s the Alex Okafor the Cardinals thought they drafted. That’s the Alex Okafor the Cardinals needed.
The second-year pro out of Texas got the start Sunday against the Washington Redskins in place of the injured Matt Shaughnessy, and he responded by collecting four tackles, two sacks and two QB hits in Arizona’s 30-20 victory.
“I knew I could do it,” Okafor said. “I’ve got confidence in myself and the coaches and players on this team have confidence in me. It wasn’t a surprise — just when they come my way, I’ve just got to make plays.”
Entering Sunday’s game, the Cardinals had collected just four sacks, though none were registered from a linebacker.
And while this effort does not mean Okafor is going to be a premier sack artist, it did help to validate head coach Bruce Arians, who maintained all week the 23-year-old was talented enough to make that kind of impact.
It was only a matter of staying healthy, which he has been unable to do. The coach said the light has come on for the linebacker.
“That’s the type of player we thought we had all along, and I was really happy to see it,” Arians said. “We’ll watch the film, but he stood out because of the sacks, but he got close a couple more times. He started commanding chips, and it’s good to see a young guy do that.”
With Shaughnessy on the injured reserve/designated to return list, he’s going to be out for a while. That means Okafor, if he can stay healthy, should continue to get opportunities to establish himself in the NFL.
In Sunday’s performance, Okafor said he didn’t do anything out of the ordinary, and was instead the beneficiary of the coaching staff putting him in position to succeed. An accomplished player while at Texas, he’s just glad to finally contribute to the team’s success.
“It’s just good knowing that I’m healthy and I can go out there and play and be myself,” he said. “I’ve been ridden with injuries since I got here, so it just feels good playing a complete game and being able to do what I did in college.”